SPORTS LAW AT THE CROSSROADS

Lee Wellings: This football business is not all bad

Covering the murky, newsy, side of football can be an unpleasant business.

Frequently leading you away from what you loved about the game in the first places. Encapsulated in recent years by the scandal surrounding the games governing body.

Whatever the full unedited truth of the bidding processes for 2018 and 2022, what has happened since has been an utter disgrace. The level of political manoeuvring, self-preservation and blame-avoidance are shameful and embarrassing.

But you know what, you and I have had enough of that for one year.

And throughout 2014 there has been plenty to be positive about when covering the world’s biggest game. Really there has.

In January I covered a seemingly unprecedented act of kindness between football fans, in the world’s greatest competition – the FA Cup. Bournemouth fans made donations to pay for Burton to come to watch the game. Why? The first game was called off at the eleventh hour and many fans could not afford to return. Bournemouth, a great club, have never forgotten Burton’s hospitality when they were celebrating a title win a few years back.

The English south coast club are threatening to reach the Premier League. Every time I see they’ve won – and it’s become regular occurrence – it brings a smile. The brilliant young manager Eddie Howe is a close relation of a dear family friend. We are thrilled for him, and her. He has brought such joy to the town. It’s amazing what football can do.

As it happens I needed to return to Burton in December for a documentary we are making for Al Jazeera. It’s not about them – we just needed their co-operation. While deluged with work and logistical issues an urgent email came through from the Chairman about our visit. We MUST stop filming to take lunch with them on matchday. Do we have any special dietary requirements?! Now that’s classy.

The kindness of people in football can lift the soul. Still my favourite ever ‘subjects’ are Stranraer, the League One club in the South West corner of Scotland.

I was reporting on a difficult, painful subject – club captain Frank McKeown leading his team on the pitch having come straight from his fireman duties – the night a helicopter plummeted into a packed pub on a Friday night killing 10 people and injuring many more.

The warmth they showed my Al Jazeera cameraman Akhilesh and me a year ago had a profound effect on us. A dangerous effect on Akhilesh as he proudly wore his Stranraer shirt in sub-zero temperatures while on news coverage duty in Ukraine.

My friendship with Frank and support of the club is sealed. Neutral status kicked into row z. They are going well this season and have every chance of promotion. I am rooting for them like a schoolboy.

Elsewhere we like to put football figures in neat boxes don’t we? Such as West Ham manager Sam Allardyce. ‘Bit grumpy, bit too english with his thinking, bit lucky to still be in charge of the club?’

Well when I met him not only were his team 5th in the Premier League but he found time to send his best wishes to an 80 year-old relative who is battling health issues to still attend every home game.

But perhaps nothing related to football should focus our minds more than the Christmas truce commemorations across Europe

On Christmas Day 1914 the fabled game of football took place between British and German troops in No Man’s Land. I say fabled because it’s been immortalised as an actual game rather than sporadic outbreaks of goodwill, peace and some accounts of football being played.

But for once the facts have proved not to be the be and end all. For the messages of peace and humanity football on the frontline can bring are precious. And has helped educate many millions on the horrors of World War 1 when there wasn’t a truce in place.

Listening to Silent Night in German then English in front of a hushed, contemplative crowd is a sobering experience.

And a reminder that football should be a force for good.

And so I’m happy to say that when historians look back on 2014 they won’t be focusing on the political animals and misguided businessmen who have poisoned the game.

Instead what will stand out is the actual football played in the 2014 World Cup. The most entertaining in history. Surprisingly and enthrallingly breathtaking in the group stages particularly. My five weeks in Brazil will stay with me as an extraordinary experience.

Actual games of football. Entertaining with plenty of goals. Easy to forget that’s what this ‘business’ is actually about sometimes.

Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year to you.

Lee Wellings is the Sports Correspondent for Al Jazeera English based in London. Contact him at ten.a1553233793reeza1553233793jla@s1553233793gnill1553233793ew.ee1553233793l1553233793. Follow Lee on twitter @LeeW_Sport