INTERVIEW: James Baldwin – From Gloucestershire to North Sweden

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Ben Sibley speaks to semi-professional footballer James Baldwin, an Englishman playing his trade in the Swedish second division…

We’re forever being asked ‘Why would an English player move abroad? Why would they when they have it so good here?’ Whilst this is undoubtedly true for full-time professional players, it is not so for part-time semi-professional players. The difficulties balancing in England part-time football and full-time work has led a growing number of players to pursue other routes to the professional game. The two most trodden paths are West, across the Atlantic to America, and North, across the North Sea to Scandinavia.

Almost 1,000 kilometers north of Stockholm lies the Swedish coastal city of Luleå. For 26 year-old English footballer James Baldwin, this is home. A graduate of the esteemed Hartpury College, James’ journey to professional football has taken him from the sleepy Cotswold town of Nailsworth to within 200 kilometers of the arctic circle. After spending the 2014 season with Östersunds FK in the Swedish Superettan (the second highest league in the country’s league system), James moved north to join IFK Luleå – the city’s most successful football team. Here, he takes us from the very beginning through to the present.

Hartpury University and the World University Games

How important was your time at Hartpury University?

“Going to Hartpury provided me with every opportunity that has led to me living the life I do now. It gave me a feel for the professional environment in terms of the coaching, facilities and training every morning. I was lucky enough to captain the university team the last time they won the BUCS National Championships – my time there gave me confidence to make decisions and not be afraid to voice my opinion – something I might not have done if I was in a professional setup.”

Your performances for Hartpury eventually led to you representing Great British Universities at the 2013 World University Games in Kazan, Russia – did you enjoy the experience?

“It was the best experience of my life. Being part of something so big – with a TV audience of millions – playing against Russia in front of 15,000 people in the semi-final and France in the final was unforgettable. The majority of the teams in the competition consisted of players who had been capped at U21 and U23 levels – for a group of non-league players from Britain to come back with a silver medal was really a great achievement.” Continue reading

Interview: Ed Chamberlin – Dream Goal, Southampton and Monday Night Football

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The False Nine were invited along to Budweiser’s Dream Goal event launch in Regent’s Park last week. Ed Chamberlin stopped for a chat about that, Monday Night Football and Southampton…

Tell us about Dream Goal. How did you get involved?

“My agent got a telephone call that I was delighted about to be honest. Gary was right when he said earlier, it’s amazing when you think about it that it hasn’t been done before. I was delighted, and it’s been a lot of fun. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. My goodness did we giggle during that day filming it. We still don’t know how it’s going to come out, and you sure you guys are always the same on twitter you’re a bit nervous when you send that link out, and you imagine the abuse you’ll get a lot of the time for various shows. Suddenly, all that came back was how much people had enjoyed it, which for us is very unusual. It’s been great, and the thing I’ve loved is football people including us in tweets to their mates saying “Oh we need to send in Gary’s one from last week”, from village football matches to all round the country it’s been quite satisfying. None of mine have made it.

What’s the best goal you’ve ever scored?

I live in a village called Broughton, I think I’ve scored some great goals but I asked the lads which one of mine would you enter and they all looked rather confused, which was slightly disappointing actually, for a big, gallivanting centre-half who loves to come forward.

Do you play much?

Not as much as I used to. When you pass 40 the knees start to go.

So you’d say you’re more Gary Neville than Jamie Redknapp?

[Laughs] I have no idea what you mean by that! Yeah. I’m a very bad Jamie Carragher I think. I haven’t got Redknapp’s looks, midfield ability, passing ability, anything. Continue reading

Interview: Gavin Rose and His Pink and Blue Army

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TFN editor James Dutton speaks to Dulwich Hamlet boss Gavin Rose about the club’s rise through non-league football, and his further ambitions in the game…

Hidden away in a leafy borough of South London, Dulwich Hamlet have been making waves in non-league football this season. Enjoyable, attractive, attacking football has put the club and its feverish supporters on the cusp of a second consecutive promotion, this time to the Conference South – almost unprecedented in the club’s proud history.

Gavin Rose is coming towards the conclusion of his fifth season at Champion Hill, and barring any last-minute changes he will end it as one of only seven black managers in the top eight divisions of English football. The other six are, like the 37-year-old from Peckham, managing in non-league football.

Ambition marks Rose out from many of his contemporaries at this level. Does he see himself as a manager in the Football League in the next five years? “Definitely,” is the immediate, assertive response. But it should not be mistaken for arrogance, he recognises that he has no divine right to make it that far. It’s a philosophy that underpins his personality, and shines through in his beliefs about the game he loves.

What would be holding him back from that, barring the A license coaching badge that still needs to be earned? Other than himself, he sees no stumbling block.

But with the sackings of Chris Powell and Chris Hughton in the last month, there are now no black managers in charge of the 92 clubs that comprise the Premier League and Football League. He is well versed on the subject, this stain on English football, but perhaps surprisingly unfazed.

Continue reading

The mental health taboo: the unhealthy side of football

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Josh Jackman looks into mental health, one of the remaining taboo subjects in football…

“I was branded a disgrace for revealing I was suffering from depression. People just couldn’t understand it when outwardly they thought I had everything – to them I was living the dream.”

Stan Collymore’s comments this week were shocking but unsurprising. Despite progress being made over the last few years – particularly with the Professional Footballers’ Association’s establishment of a support service in 2013 – mental health is still a taboo subject in the sport.

In the year since the PFA set up the National Counsellors Support Network for Professional Footballers, it has helped 136 players who have diseases from depression to addiction. The number of footballers who suffer in silence, however, is anyone’s guess.

One in four people will suffer from mental health issues at some point in their lives, while 10 per cent contract depression. Statistically speaking, that means there are hundreds of professional footballers in the UK who have not yet sought help. Continue reading

Interview – David Conn on Hillsborough

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In the second of a two-part interview, Natasha Clark speaks to Guardian sports journalist and investigative reporter David Conn about the impact of Hillsborough on football in 2014…

“96 people died. 96 people came to Sheffield to see their team play, and actually died. We cannot forget that.”

Conn speaks sombrely and yet with sheer passion about what has now been publically revealed to be an extensive police cover up, supported by bogus media reporting, most notably from the Sun’s ‘THE TRUTH’ front page, four days after the event.

“What happened at Hillsborough never should have been allowed to happen,” he says quietly. What happened for the next 23 years should also never have been allowed to happen.”

He speaks about the “21 years of silence” following Hillsborough as equally appalling as the events of the 1989 match.

“I know they were under pressure. As a journalist, you can make mistakes… but not like that. There is a huge difference between the truth and smearing.” Continue reading

Interview – David Conn on Sport Journalism and the Media

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In the first of a two part interview, Natasha Clark speaks to Guardian sports journalist and investigative reporter David Conn about sports culture and his critical eye on the media’s take on football…

I am not a sports journalist. I don’t follow sport and I rarely watch it. But I knew David Conn would be a big deal. His work in the past year has investigated business controversy behind Tottenham’s new stadium project, Premier League finances, drugs-testing within football, the commercial interests of the FA, and Conn has continued to be one of the leading writers on Hillsborough.

In 2009, His piece remembering the atrocities of the semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest 20 years on, played a part in re-opening an investigation into the events of 1989, and quashing the initial verdict of ‘accidental death’. My sports knowledge may be limited, but I was far from disappointed; Conn speaks with sincerity, enthusiasm and a sheer passion for football and community.

Bearing in mind his reputation, and recent Sports Journalist of the Year award at the British Journalism Awards last month, I threw him in right at the deep end. Are sports journalists scared to criticise sport due to their closeness to the game? A sharp intake of breath follows. “Actually, I think that statement is both unfair and outdated.”  Continue reading

“It was like winning the FA Cup” – Woodford United’s losing streak comes to an end

woodford picWe caught up with Woodford United manager Mitch Austin after a very memorable weekend for his football club…

After this weekend’s 2-1 victory against Blackstones FC, Woodford United ended a run of 65 successive defeats dating back to April 2012. That’s around 100 hours, or 6,000 minutes of football. Two goals from Harry Beckley were enough to see out the away win in the United Counties League (UCL) Division One which is Level 10 of the football pyramid. In the words of manager Mitch Austin, “It was like winning the FA Cup!”.

“It’s been a long time coming”, said Austin. “The club’s been in a bad place for the past 18 months.” After relegation from the Southern League last season, Woodford decided to drop down another division in hope of finding their level. Over the past year and a half, their plight has been picked up on and Andy Ollerenshaw had earmarked this fixture as a game they were capable of winning in his piece for When Saturday Comes last week. Continue reading