ONE YEAR AT THE GILLS

On February 20, 2016 I travelled to Oldham Athletic for my first game as part of Gillingham Football Club, and what a day it was – 10 hours of travelling, torrential rain and a 2-1 loss against the side sitting bottom of the league.

One year, 25 defeats, 17 draws and 13 wins later, we currently sit one point above the relegation zone.

However, off the pitch it has been quite successful and an enjoyable one personally in my first full-time role in football.

As a two-strong media team, our aim was to give the club greater coverage than what it had previously and take it up to a Championship club level.

In summary, here are some of the highlights of the year:

  • Increasing the club’s social media following by 61% (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram): 66,723 (Feb 2016) –107,122 (Feb 2017)
    • Twitter: 29,900 (Feb 2016) –49,000 (Feb 2017)
    • Facebook: 34,000 (Feb 2016) –52,500 (Feb 2017)
    • Instagram: 2,823 (Feb 2016) –5,622 (Feb 2017)
  • Creating more video content for both YouTube and Gills Player, including Goalcam, Mascotcam, GOTM, interviews (short and full) and other behind-the-scenes videos.
  • Introduction of Periscope, Snapchat and Facebook Live.
  • Winning the EFL’s Family Excellence Award for the first time in the club’s history.
  • Boasting a multi award-winning programme – all credit to Nick.
  • Introducing home/away/third kit matchday graphics, including teamsheets, and quotes images.

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  • Bringing in our own photographers, Kent Pro Images, who offer instant/live images throughout the match and quality image galleries post-match.

With there being only two of us we are quite limited in time and resources, however we have more ideas in the pipeline, and hope to expand the club’s coverage further over the coming months.

Any feedback is welcome!

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England must tighten up their vulnerable defence to give themselves a chance in France next summer

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Having a solid back four is a thing of the past for England. Over the last two decades the Three Lions have boasted world-class defenders, who were seen as up there with the best in the world.

You only have to go back 10 years to the 2006 World Cup, where even England’s substitutes rank higher than the current crop. The so called ‘Golden Generation’ of Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry and Ashley Cole were backed up by Jamie Carragher, Sol Campbell, Wayne Bridge and a versatile Owen Hargreaves on the bench.

We could even go further back to the 90’s, where die-hard tacklers like Tony Adams and Stuart Pearce were around and commanding the penalty area.

In recent times, however, the mean and patriotic England defence of old has been replaced with little more than mediocrity. The Manchester United pair of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are starting to string together successive starts for the national team, and even though the back four has been solid since the nightmare in Brazil, this is worrying for England fans.

Both have shown promising signs of progression and improvement since their terrible starts for United, however, the fact is they haven’t done enough to warrant a regular starting place in Roy Hodgson’s XI.

One strong point in England’s defence is vice-captain Gary Cahill, whose role as the most reliable at the back has been unchallenged. Cahill has won every major club trophy in just three seasons at Chelsea, however unlike England’s other starlets his name did not come into the limelight until his mid 20’s.

This may be the case for Jones and Smalling. The pair might build on their already vast experience and become late bloomers in the England ranks. They may even become key players in future World Cup and Euro Championships squads. Center backs usually peak in their late 20’s, which gives the twosome a few years yet to prove many doubters wrong.

There is, however, the small issue of players coming through the ranks with unbelievable potential. Everton’s John Stones is tipped by many to be England captain one day and I believe he deserves to be Cahill’s partner in front of Joe Hart.

Not only is he a towering centre-back, but the 21-year-old is calm on the ball, never panics and has two years top flight experience at a very young age.

Other promising signs for Roy Hodgson is the emergence of Nathanial Clyne, who has just completed a dream move to Liverpool after an outstanding season at Southampton.

Glen Johnson has finally moved on and Clyne is the perfect man to fill his boots. With his electrifying pace he has tonnes more ability and excitement than the man he replaces for both club and country. Liverpool fans will be rubbing their hands and gearing up to see what he brings come August.

I do believe Hodgson will come good one day and lead England to greater things, but some of his decisions have to be questioned. Deploying Jordan Henderson to right-back in the victory over Slovenia was an odd one, especially with Clyne on the bench ready to stamp his mark on the international scene.

Imagine Sven-Goran Eriksson replaced Neville with midfield maestro Paul Scholes during the early 2000’s; it just wouldn’t happen.

Hodgson holds the key to England’s fortunes and has an array of tough-tackling talent to choose from when picking his squads. Let’s hope he transforms a bench-worthy back four into a well-drilled fearsome quartet who are ready and able to shut out Europe’s elite.​

Champions League 2017 final in Cardiff could give English teams a platform for success

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The final of the biggest club competition in world football is expected to come back to Britain for the third time in six years, however, not to the capital.

Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium is the current favourite to host the 2017 final with UEFA likely to announce their decision in Prague on the 29th June.

If the decision were to go in the way of the Welsh national venue, it would give English clubs another stab at winning the competition on home soil and to catch up with Spanish and German clubs in European competition.

This would be hugely beneficial to the Premier League after a transitional period where England’s dominant club, Manchester United, failed to make the Champions League for the first time since 1995/96. In the 2012-13 and 2014-15 seasons no English team progressed beyond the last 16; a dismal portrayal of English football in comparison to the 1999-2011 era, where at least two Premier League teams reached the quarter finals in 10 out of the 12 seasons.

The last Champions League outing at Wembley in 2013 was solely represented by Germany, as Bayern Munich triumphed over Bundesliga rivals Borussia Dortmund. Two years earlier, Man United made their way to the capital to face Barcelona, but were outclassed by Pep Guardiola’s unstoppable Barcelona.

European football has been dominated by the Spaniards in recent times and they have proved a giant obstacle for English clubs. Despite winning two of the last four Premier League titles, big spenders Manchester City have consistently struggled in Europe and became the seventh English club to be knocked out by Real Madrid or Barcelona in the last six years.

Although winning two Champions Leagues and appearing in finals, Premier League teams seem to come unstuck against the Goliath figures of Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid. When you look at the domestic leagues however, the Premier League has higher calibre of competition, fiercer rivalries and a greater portfolio of players compared to others in Europe; so why do they struggle when reaching the knockout stages after the turn of the year?

A difference between the leagues is the winter break applied by other countries. When the February knockout stage comes around, other European big guns come fresh from a two week break. English teams have come straight out the back of a gruelling Christmas fixture list, playing two games over three days in some cases.

Cardiff’s 74,500-seater stadium missed out on its bid to host Euro 2020 matches, however has proven it can host these momentous occasions as it did whilst hosting the Football League play-offs and FA Cup finals between 2001 and 2006.

This year’s final was held in Berlin’s Olympiastadion, while next year’s final will be held at the San Siro in Milan. English teams must show a substancial improvement in next year’s competition in order to start dominating the continent as they did in the 2000’s, and withstand any chance of glory in Cardiff by the time 2017 comes around.

Chelsea’s undeniable influence on Middlesbrough’s extraordinary season

Middlesbrough are 90 minutes away from returning to the Premier League, and there’s plenty of optimism around Teesside as manager Aitor Karanka has his team in a confident mood going into the Wembley showdown with Norwich on Monday.

This optimism and belief has been a rarity in recent years, but the Spaniard has brought stability into the squad with the emphasis focused on winning; a trait that also sits well with his good friend Jose Mourinho and his triumphant Chelsea team.

Three-time Champions League winner Karanka was assistant manager to Mourinho in his time at Real Madrid and has a calendar of The Special One in his office at Boro’s Rockliffe Park training facility. Both left Madrid in 2013. However, this wasn’t the end of their working relationship as the pair chose to follow different paths in England.

There are uncanny similarities between the two managers and their clubs, with both the Premier League champions and Championship Play-Off finalists helping each other throughout the season.

Through Karanka’s connections with the Chelsea boss, Boro were able to secure three loan signings that have had a real impact at the Riverside. Kenneth Omeruo had a strong start to the season and Tomas Kalas was inspirational during his loan spell.

The Czech international showed his disappointment at not being able to play the full season due to Football League loan regulations. The defender has, however, stayed with the squad since his last game in the victory at Carrow Road; signifying the togetherness of the squad Karanka has assembled.

The third, Patrick Bamford, has had his best season yet. The England U-21 international has scored 19 goals and picked up the Championship player of the season award. His form has had Chelsea fans’ alarm bells ringing as they would like to see the promising youngster sign a new contract at Stamford Bridge; something he is yet to negotiate with the champions.

Chelsea have utilised the loan market this season and used the Championship experience at Middlesbrough to bring on their highly rated young prospects. A smart move from Mourinho, who may have found a future England starlet out of nothing in Bamford.

Boro’s number 23 has been just another one of Chelsea’s young loanees in the past few seasons, but has stepped up to the mark this campaign and sparked plenty of Premier League interest from around the country.

Like the Blues, many have called Boro a ‘boring’ side this season. However some of the counter-attacking play between the front four has been Barcelona-esque. Albert Adomah’s finish in the 3-0 drumming of Brentford last week topped off an unbelievable offensive performance in the most important game of the season so far.

The link-up play between Jelle Vossen, Lee Tomlin and Adomah was more like that of something you’d expect to see at the Nou Camp rather than the second tier of English football.

Boro and Chelsea boast the best defence in their respective leagues and both managers emphasise the importance of being solid at the back in order to be a successful team. Under Karanka, Boro have had a knack of when playing poorly, coming out with all three points thanks to formidable displays from Dimi Konstantopoulos and the reliable back four.

From experience over the years Teessiders are all too familiar with the fact that when Boro play poorly, the defensive floodgates are usually wide open; memories of the 2006 UEFA Cup Final come rushing back.

Another similarity between the teams is the club captaincy; John Terry and Jonathan Woodgate are both local lads and born leaders with die-hard defensive attitudes. The former England centre-backs lift the team and build morale week in, week out, on and off the pitch.

The applause for the Boro skipper when he came on in the semi-final second leg for the last few seconds shows what his presence means to the club, even though he has made only a handful of starts all season.

Karanka has another more than capable on the field motivator when Woodgate is unavailable. Grant Leadbitter’s performances and goals have proved ever so valuable to the Boro faithful this year and his determination against Brentford typified the midfielder’s season.

Leadbitter is likely to captain the side at Wembley, with Woodgate providing direction from the bench as he has done for most of the season. The only question is will it be the injury-struck Boro boy or the set-play specialist who lifts the cup, should they get the job done?

The managerial styles of both managers are consistent on the pitch and behind the scenes. The emphasis is on building from the back and winning at all costs, even if it means upsetting people on the way. The Special One is famous for his mind games and media outbursts, whereas his former assistant deals with the press in a calm and collected way.

It was well documented that Brentford’s Harlee Dean and Mark Warburton accused Boro of being dirty and a team who can only score from set-plays; a clear attempt to provoke a reaction from the boss and players.

Instead, the Spaniard did little but praise the opposition to the media and told his men to do the talking on the pitch, as they have all season long. His master tactics worked once again, as Brentford were swallowed up by an overwhelming Riverside crowd and the Londoners failed to get a point against the Boro for the fourth time this season.

Karanka praises Mourinho at every opportunity and the pair are still close, but should Boro progress past Norwich on Monday, there will be no favors next season when Boro travel to Stamford Bridge searching for an important three points to help establish their Premier League status.

 

Former Atletico strikers battle it out for the Premier League title

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La Liga champions Atletico Madrid churn out the finest goal scorers in world football year after year. Ever since Fernando Torres captained the club in 2007, the standard of strikers being produced has been of the highest quality; far superior compared to other teams around the globe.

Three of these forwards are the most feared in world football, and now applying their trade in England they are competing against each other to become Premier League champions.

Sergio Aguero- Destined for glory…

Man City’s talisman is football royalty in his homeland of Argentina and has been tipped for success from a very young age. He has been a regular international since the age of 18 and had fathered Diego Maradona’s grandson by the time he was 20.

Aguero has been Mr Consistent over the previous three seasons and carried this form into the 2014/15 campaign. He is level with Diego Costa on 17 goals so far this term, however unlike the Spaniard Aguero has proven he has what it takes to conquer the Premier League, year after year.

The past few campaigns have been head to head battles with Luis Suarez for top scorer bragging rights. This campaign it looks like his former team-mate over at Stamford Bridge will be his main competition for glory.

Many world-class strike partners have played with the Argentinian since his arrival in Manchester, including Mario Balotelli, Edin Dzeko and Carlos Tevez; however he has been and will remain City’s ever present attacking threat. His goals have proved vital for the club and without him the trophy cabinet at the Etihad wouldn’t look quite as impressive.

His finish for one of the most famous goals of the Premier League era (against QPR in 2011) shows you exactly what his game is all about- he doesn’t stop until the last kick, gives his all in every match and oozes passion for the sport.

The good thing for both club and country is that the little man is probably capable of more. It would be fair to say that the Premier League is lucky to have such a talent performing week in week out.

Diego Costa- Resilience paid off…

The Brazilian turn Spaniard has had to battle his way through the rough to become the striker he is today. Whilst Aguero was making his debut for Argentina against Brazil, Costa was loaned out to second division Portuguese side Penafiel.

The devastating partnership of Aguero and Diego Forlan kept Costa on the fringes of Simeone’s squad for the best part of two seasons. Costa’s real chance for Atletico came when Forlan’s fitness and form deteriorated after his memorable performances at the 2010 World Cup, in which he picked up the Golden Ball award.

After hat-trick in a 3-2 win at Osasuna, Costa was described as a ‘Battering ram,’ who played like a hybrid version of the two strikers who used to keep him out of Simeone’s side.

In his most successful so far, Costa scored 27 goals in La Liga and 8 in the Champions League as Atletico became Champions and runners-up, respectively.He continued this form into the 2014/15 Premiership season for Chelsea after the £32m release clause was met by the Blues in the summer.

Under Mourinho he is living up to the fearsome, world-class status he earned last season and is proving to Abramovic that splashing out on his price tag is money well spent.

Costa is currently joint top scorer in the Premier League with 17 goals and has all the attributes needed for the English game. The aggression, physicality and pure presence in the box makes defenders tremble at the thought of facing the Spaniard.

His temper is an issue, however, and keeping away from match bans could prove the difference between his goals helping Chelsea clinch the title or finishing just short in 2nd place.

Radamel Falcao- Expectations too high?

Falcao’s prolific goal scoring at Atletico earned him the right to be mentioned in the same breath as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. The Columbian front man hit the back of the net 52 times in 68 La Liga games for the Madrid outfit, becoming one of most established and feared strikers in world football.

Amid questions over whether he could be as successful in the Premier League, Falcao smashed an unstoppable first half hat-trick versus Champions League winners Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup. After the game, Diego Simeone portrayed him as ‘indescribable,’ saying “whenever you set the bar high he sets it higher and rises to the occasion.”

Falcao continued his La Liga form for Ligue 1 big spenders Monaco, scoring 9 in 16 games in an injury-struck season. This was enough for Louis Van Gaal to snap him up in a big money loan deal for Manchester United.

As has been the case for other big name United signings, the transition from other European leagues to the Premier League has not been as explosive as you may have expected at the start of the season.

He has just 4 goals in 16 games and although we have seen glimpses of the Falcao of old, it just doesn’t seem to be clicking in a United shirt. One reason for this is that he used to being the main man, the goal scorer, the one to watch in a system where he is the focal point.

Under Van Gaal, he is playing alongside Robin van Persie, who is essentially a left footed version of himself, and other star attackers such as Angel Di Maria and captain Wayne Rooney.

Going forward United haven’t yet flourished this season, however if the system changes to more suit Falcao and he stays at United we may see him up there with the likes of Aguero and Costa next season.