This is a video I made around selling the concept of Snack Media’s Russia House – a place where journalists, bloggers, reporters and football fans can watch the 2018 World Cup.

Boro look for Bamford replacement as Downing travels to Teesside

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The gruelling pre-season schedule is now in full swing and there is optimism around Teesside, with what promises to be an exciting summer of transfers ahead.

The aim this season is for Aitor Karanka’s Boro to try and go one step further than last year’s whirlwind campaign, making sure they begin the 2016/17 campaign in the Premier League.

The success of last season came as a surprise for many after Boro lost three of the opening five games. However, after an array of last minute crafty loan deals, Karanka finally got the team playing exciting football.

Going into the back end of 2014 the Teessiders went unbeaten for months on end and cemented a back four that would go on to be the best in the league.

The manager has said that the focus this season is to be ready from the off, as those nine points dropped at the start of last season proved a clinical blow to Boro’s promotion hopes.

Many of last year’s play-off final squad have moved on and there’s a Patrick Bamford shaped hole upfront.

There is good news for Boro fans, however, as reports around the Riverside suggest Karanka and Head of Recruitment, Gary Gill, are close to filling these gaps with more than adequate replacements.

First through the Ayresome Park Gates was versatile defender Alex Baptiste, who looked a great signing after the loss of centre-backs Kenneth Omeruo and Jonathan Woodgate to retirement.

The former Blackpool defender was stretchered off midway through the first half of Boro’s opening pre-season friendly against York, meaning he will be out of action for the majority of the season with a double fracture to his leg.

Just as Boro looked like they’d never find a fix to the curse at right back, Tomas Kalas returned to the Riverside on a season-long loan from Chelsea in what may be the most likely signing in the history of the club.

Burnley new boy Jelle Vossen started behind Bamford for the majority of last season, but never really looked as promising in Red as he did in a Genk shirt, hence the reason Karanka opted against bidding for the Belgian.

With Lee Tomlin operating out on the left, Karanka has a space to fill behind the striker. If Twitter reports are anything to go by, Boro fans are in for the most important signing of the last decade; a return to his homeboy club for Stewart Downing.

The England international is undoubtedly Premier League class and has turned down offers from the top tier clubs to reunite with the Riverside once again.

Steve Gibson has agreed a fee of around £5.5m, with the payment rising up to £7m if the season’s objectives of promotion are achieved.

Downing is likely to be utilised in the number 10 role, where he was exceptional last season and arguably West Ham’s best player.

All that’s left is for the Boro lad to sign the contract and then fly out to meet the squad at their training camp in Marbella, where they beat Leyton Orient 3-1 last night in a pre-season friendly.

Scoring goals was the weak link last season and the addition of Downing will boost the opportunities going forward, but there is no one to challenge Kike for the number 9 role.

Espanyol’s Christian Stuani is said to be heading to the North East with the fee agreed at around £2.5m. The 28-year-old started at the World Cup for Uruguay and netted 12 times in 15 in La Liga last season.

Stewy and Stuani leading the strike force in the Championship – it certainly has a ring to it.

Another of Chelsea’s bright youth prospects may follow Omeruo, Bamford and Nathaniel Chalobah in a season loan on Teesside. Jose Mourinho is likely to send 20-year-old old Nathan Ake to the Championship to earn some game time and valuable experience in the most competitive and rewarding league in the world.

The club’s bid to have the deals done early is looking promising, meaning the squad will have plenty of time to gel before walking out at Deepdale on August 9th for the opener against newly promoted Preston North End.

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.​

Club heroes who have gone on to break their fans hearts…

With all the focus on Stevie G’s announcement earlier this week, we take a look at other players idolised by their fans who have crushed that almost perfect relationship with the club…

2015 Gerrard Announces the end of his Liverpool Love Affair (for now anyway)-

Just into the New Year and the Ex- England skipper announces that we will no longer be playing for his hometown club after the end of the season. As the news broke, you could here a Scouse whine across the country. Many pundits and Ex- Pro’s of the footballing world describe Gerrard as a true Liverpool and England great, one who is very rare in this day and age with all the money and fame. Gerrard may well be the last of his kind- Someone who has stayed with his hometown club since being a schoolboy, rejecting offers from the world’s biggest club’s to try and conquer success with the Red’s. No matter what anyone says, Stevie G has been an asset to English football for club and country; the question is, what’s next in store?

2009 Shearer managing Newcastle to relegation-

Well, it wasn’t all his fault but with Hull travelling to Old Trafford the Geordies would have ben safe with a point- Something which a side battling to avoid relegation should expect away at Villa Park. A lacklustre display summed up by a definitive own goal by Damien Duff capped off a season in which four managers tried and failed to revive the North East giants. On a day when all three of the North East clubs could’ve gone down, Sunderland were the ones having the last laugh. Their fans were seen in complete jubilation as the scores came in and Middlesbrough and Newcastle were in the English second tier for the first time since 1998 and 1993 respectively.

In Shearer’s playing career for Newcastle he was unstoppable, netting 148 times in 303 games for the Magpies and becoming the Premier League’s all time top scorer with 260 goals. Although Shearer was only Manager for four games, Newcastle were without a win and scored just one goal.

2014 Lampard coming off the bench to score vs his beloved Chelsea-

Upon Lampard’s arrival for the game against his previous employer, Chelsea fans were cheering and singing his name and when he made his appearance off the bench there was a huge applause from the away end. Chelsea were 1-0 up after a goal from Schurrle and Zabaleta had just been sent off so it was turning out quite an away day for the fans. However, in the 85th minute Lamps scored with a typical good finish from a James milner pass, although he refused to celebrate after. This marked the revival for City, who were 5 points behind at the time.

Lamps is Chelsea’s all time top scorer and the 4th highest scorer in Premier League history (level with Thierry Henry); Some feat considering all his goals came from midfield. With Yaya Toure off to the African Cup of Nation’s, Lampard could be key in City’s pursuing of the title and could be the man to inflict more misery on his old club as City are now on level points with the early-season front runners. The two giants clash at Stamford Bridge on the 31st January in a game that could shape the rest of the season.

2006 Ronaldo Winks to the Portugal Bench as Rooney’s Sent to the Changing Room-

This was heartache for football fans all over the country. England’s promising starlet was dismissed for a kick out at Chelsea Centre back Ricardo Carvalho right in front of the referee. As soon as the incident occurred Ronaldo and co surroundeed the Argentinian referee, urging him to take action – Rooney was sent off and with him, any hope England had in progressing to the Semi’s.

When the pair turned up back in Manchester there was rumours Ronaldo had to leave the club and that there was a feud between both players, however Rooney was quick to dismiss these and admitted that he would have done the same if it was the other way round.

In recent years both players have become legends at Old Trafford, with Ronaldo in unstoppable form from 2007-2009 before jetting off to Spain to win Spanish titles, Ballon D’ors and pretty much everything else. Rooney has since beedn handed both the United and England captaincy and is on his way to becoming the top scorer for his country on top of overtaking Ryan Giggs as the Red Devil’s all time Premier League top scorer.

Boring, Boring Wembley

Yes we beat San Marino, and yes we scored 5, but is this really good enough considering we were playing quite literally the worst team in the world?

I was at Wembley for the game and the whole situation felt like something was missing. We are used to having several leaders in the team the past decade with Beckham, Owen, Terry, Ferdinand, Cole, Gerrard and the list goes on; nowadays we rely on Rooney too much for experience and to take the game by the scruff of its neck.

We need players who take risks and try something different every now and again, like Jack Wilshere, who has not been at his best in an England shirt but I’m sure he will rise to the occasion sooner rather than later.

Even the crowd was boring. The most exciting part was a half hearted attempt at a Mexican wave that shut down after 2 laps of the pitch. Maybe the FA should introduce ground sharing up and down the country for these qualifying games against minnows as they did when Wembley was being rebuilt.

Stadiums such as the Riverside stadium rose the the occasion in the past, providing a real atmosphere for the games and giving people the chance to see their country play, as not everyone gets the chance to get to the capital. England internationals should have the same feel as a Premier League match, we are meant to be a proud nation!

In a poll online Joe heart received man of the match from England fans, even though he only had one save to make the entire Match. This just highlights the fact that we were all expecting much more than a lacklustre display.

We should be going for goal scoring records against these teams, trying to outdo Germany’s 13-0 victory back in 2006. This would make a real statement going into future campaigns that we are a force to be reckoned with and prove that our Brazilian nightmare is behind us.

There were signs of promise for Hodgsons men however, with substitutes Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade- Chamberlain staking their claim to the starting Xl against future opponents with skilful displays. The fact that Rooney is not playing his best and still grabbing goals is also a huge plus.

Maybe as a nation we are cursed; the expectation gets too much and we’re all left heartbroken. But something needs to change if we’re going to make a real challenge for the Euros.