Top flight: My published articles for

In August 2012, I secured a full-time placement as Digital Operations Assistant at the Premier League. The role has mostly included editorial work, image editing and website content management, but it has also allowed me to write a series of articles and photo galleries for the site. The links for some of my articles are below: Photo Galleries:
19th March: Owen announces retirement at end of season
1st March: Manchester United in lead as ‘ever-presents’ reach 800 mark
7th February: Carragher to call time on Liverpool career

4th February: Ten out of ten for freescoring Lampard

Facebook Photo Galleries:
Fantasy Premier League picks – Gameweek 29
The ‘800 club’ – ever-present Premier League clubs
Premier League players spread festive cheer
Man United v Arsenal – classic matches

Premier League articles:
24th March: Paul Lambert relishing the challenge at Villa
16th March: Man Utd close in on Spurs
15th March: Great Escapes: How Premier League clubs beat the drop
11th February: Chelsea trio help Nigeria win African Cup of Nations

11th February: Giggs: ‘Man City seven-goal thriller topped the lot’
6th February: Premier League stars set for international duty
5th February: Manchester City can call upon history for hope in title race
4th February: Little margin for error if Manchester United wish to set record
18th December: Five-star Southampton reach Elite Group Stage
2nd December: Tough FA Cup trips for Chelsea, Man Utd and Arsenal
2nd November: Arsenal aiming to improve poor Old Trafford record

19th October: Making Suarez captain pays off for FPL manager
15th October: Saints back on top
10th September: Saints and Fulham shine
5th September: Michu top of Fantasy Premier League chart
31st August: Capital One Cup – Liverpool draw West Brom
30th August: Liverpool claim first U21 win at Palace
15th August: New fantasy player trading game launched
3rd August: Fans flock to Barclays U21 Premier League debut

From the start of 2013, we also began to delve through the Premier League archives to find the most memorable moments in the division’s history as part of a regular ‘On this day’ feature. I have written most of the ‘On this day’ articles, and extensively researched significant matches, transfers, managerial appointments and landmarks so we have a detailed database for the feature going forward.

You can find the links for individual articles on the ‘On this day’ holding pages below:
On this day: January
On this day: February
On this day: March

Click here for the home page of the official Premier League website.


Gallery: Premier League Player Profiles

As part of my role within the Premier League’s Digital Operations team, I have sourced and edited images for all player profiles this season.  I have also been editing information within player and club profiles. Here is a selection of some of the best images to date:

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Chelsea target Luke Shaw and three other young Saints to watch

Chelsea are reportedly lining up a £4m bid for Luke Shaw

Chelsea are reportedly lining up a £4m bid for Luke Shaw

There has been no shortage of top class talent coming through the Southampton academy in recent years, with Arsenal & England wingers Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Tottenham’s former PFA player of the year Gareth Bale and former Chelsea full back Wayne Bridge developing their game on the South Coast. It’s no surprise then that Champions League winners Chelsea have been strongly linked with Southampton’s latest wonderkid Luke Shaw.

The national press are linking Chelsea with a £4million bid for Shaw, and Manchester City and Arsenal have also reportedly expressed an interest, but it will take something special for Southampton to relinquish one of their brightest young talents. Manager Nigel Adkins and chairman Nicola Cortese have insisted that he is not for sale and, as one of the richest clubs in English football following a takeover by the late Swiss billionaire Markus Liebherr in 2009, there is no pressure for the club to sell – especially as they are back in the Premier League after seven years outside the top flight.

But can the 16-year-old attacking left back be the next Gareth Bale or make the same sort if impact that Alex Chamberlain did at Arsenal 12 months on? Here is a lowdown on Shaw’s star potential and three other Southampton youth players to watch out or over the next few seasons.

Luke Shaw

There is no doubt that 16-year-old Luke Shaw is the most sought-after player in Southampton’s latest generation of talented players at the moment. And, despite only making one senior appearance for Saints last season, it is clear to see why the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City want to snap him up now before he bursts on to the professional scene with a string of first team games.

He has been a regular in Jason Dodd’s Under-18 side since the age of 15, and his rapid progression through the youth ranks was rewarded with two call ups to the England Under-16’s team in 2011. He is now a regular in the Under-17’s international team, having made 8 appearances.

Shaw is an attacking full back with bundles of pace, good set piece delivery and an eye for goal, having scored three times from left back in Southampton’s successful Under-18 side, and he’s been promoted to the first team squad ahead of Saints’ comeback season in the Premier League.

He featured in the Saints squad in Cup matches against Coventry, Preston North End and Millwall last season and he will undoubtedly want to follow in the footsteps of Tottenham star Gareth Bale and former England international Wayne Bridge by making a name for himself on the left side of Southampton’s defence.

James Ward-Prowse

James Ward-Prowse

James Ward-Prowse

Arguably Southampton most impressive academy graduate of the 2011-12 campaign was 17-year-old central midfielder James Ward-Prowse, who was subsequently awarded Young Player of the Year at the club’s end of season celebrations.  Also an England Under-17 international, Ward-Prowse made two starts for the senior team and he impressed on both occasions. Despite Saints being defeated in the last 16 of the Carling Cup, thanks to two late goals from Crystal Palace, Ward-Prowse earned praise from Southampton boss Nigel Adkins for his composed performance in the middle of the park. He scored his first senior goal in a 2-1 win over Coventry in the FA Cup and featured on the bench on a few occasions.

He’s quite small I stature, but he makes up for it with great energy and a superb passing range. His composure and ability to recycle possession certainly helps him fit in to Southampton’s style of play, and he is probably the most likely academy player to break in to the first team frequently this season.

Calum Chambers

Calum Chambers

Calum Chambers

Along with Shaw, Ward-Prowse and former Plymouth youngster Jack Stephens, Calum Chambers was also promoted to the first team squad after Saints gained promotion to the Premier League in April.

He’s another exciting talent, and another player who features in the England Under-17 set up, but he still seems to have crept in to Nigel Adkins’ long-term first team plans under the radar, as he is the only academy graduate in Saints’ first team who didn’t feature in the first team last season.

He’s a tall and talented winger who offers great creativity and a quality final product going forward. He featured regularly in Southampton’s Under-18’s team that finished ahead of the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea in the FA Premier League Academy Group A and contributed seven goals from out wide. He also scored the only goal in England Under-17’s 1-0 win over Ukraine in March, and has added a further two goals in just 6 appearances for the side.

Jake Sinclair

Jake Sinclair

Jake Sinclair

Every good team needs a clinical goal scorer, and the Southampton Under-18s talisman last season was 17-year-old forward Jake Sinclair. Brother of Swansea striker Scott Sinclair, Jake banged in 25 goals in 29 appearances last term – an impressive record at any level. Much like his brother, he’s got pace to burn, he’s tricky, likes to run with the ball and is a clinical finisher. There are Premier League goals in his family already, and Jake has the potential to follow in his brother’s footsteps and score goals at a high level.

He’s not gained the same sort of recognition at international level as his academy team-mates Luke Shaw, James Ward-Prowse and Calum Chambers, but a strong season with the academy and Under-21 development squad could encourage Saints boss Adkins to call on the pacey forward for cup matches in the upcoming campaign.

End of a new beginning? Why this season is vital for the English Iniesta

Jack Wilshere: A future England captain according to Cesc Fabregas

Jack Wilshere: A future England captain according to Cesc Fabregas

This time last year, England fans were whetting their appetite of the prospect of the having an intricate artist of Tiki-Taka football emerging on their shores. He made a huge impact for a title-challenging side and produced a man-of-the-match display as his side stunned the pass-masters Barcelona in the Champions League.

Wind the clock twelve months forward though, and Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere hasn’t played a competitive game in over a year, and all that promise and magnificent talent seems all too distant at the moment. An ankle injury forced him to watch the entire 2011-2012 season from the sidelines, and a knee injury flared up to provide a further setback to his recovery.

He is now a doubt to start the 2012/13 campaign, and many Arsenal and England supporters will be hoping for a return to the level that saw him labelled as England’s next big star.

Wilshere was always touted for a successful career during his academy days, starring in reserve games, scoring fantastic goals and orchestrating play in the middle of the park. After a successful loan spell at Bolton Wanderers in the 2009/10 campaign, he toughened up and showed his outstanding ability to control games as a box-to-box midfielder and playmaker.

What followed would wow lovers of the English game and give them a new ray of hope amongst a great deal of criticism that followed a dismal 2010 World Cup campaign. Wilshere made more senior appearances than any other Arsenal midfielder in the 2010/11 season, earned the PFA Young Player of the Year award and proved instrumental in a Gunners side that looked to be challenging for three trophies until a bitterly disappointing Carling Cup Final defeat at the hands of Birmingham City.

His ability to retain the ball under intense pressure, find killer passes and make play flow with clever one-twos and slide rule passes was the closest many had seen to a replacement for former England international Paul Scholes, and perhaps the closest England had to a Xavi or Andres Iniesta-like player who can dominate games with the famous Spanish brand of ‘Tiki-Taka’ football.

Wilshere broke in to the English international team, making five appearances and looking fit to wear the shirt, but the real acid test came against Barcelona, where he played alongside soon-to-be Catalan player Cesc Fabregas in midfield, and was under massive pressure to stand his own against the most dominant midfield in world football.

Thinking big: Wilshere broke in to the England team last year

Thinking big: Wilshere broke in to the England team last year

Just 19 at the time and playing in his first Champions League knockout phase, you could forgive the prodigious talent for feeling the nerves of the occasion. But, despite Barcelona taking the early initiative and going 1-0 up with a David Villa strike, WIlshere wasn’t just going to lie down. He took the game by the scruff of the neck and, even though he had a World Cup winning playmaker alongside him, it was Wilshere himself who took the game to Barcelona, proved pivotal in Arsenal turning the match around and turned the most heads in a fine 2-1 victory at the Emirates. If there wasn’t any doubt already, a star was born.

If he does get back to his best this season, he will surely get even better and develop into a future England captain – a man who can inspire this transitional crop of England internationals to try and challenge for top honours and compete with the world’s big boys.

Even Cesc Fabregas claimed that Wilshere was a future England captain, and this was something that slightly softened the blow of his departure from the North Londoners last summer.

He’s a unique player, as far as English football goes. While the current England team are grinding out results and proving doubters wrong in this summer’s Euro 2012, Roy Hodgson’s side do seem to miss a player who can control the ball in midfield, boost possession and take the game to opponents frequently. Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker have been fantastic in this year’s European Championships, but they are both over 30 and players like Jack Wilshere will be called upon in the near future.

For the sake of the beautiful game, and the English game, it will be a huge shame if Wilshere suffers further setbacks and doesn’t fully recover from a blip in what has been an extremely promising start of his career. On the flipside, if he gets back to match fitness, he will be mentally stronger for this experience, and he could yet be England’s next Andres Iniesta. Sure, it’s unlikely that England will ever emulate Spain’s incredible wealth of talent or style of play, but a fully fit Jack Wilshere could be just the man to take this country forward.

This piece was written for the Own Goal Podcast. Click here for the link.

It’s also been published by online magazine Sabotage Times. Click here to read more.

Tri-Pole Trouble: Dortmund lease of life for Euro 2012 hosts

Pole Position: Dortmund star Robert Lewandowski leads the line for Poland

Pole Position: Dortmund star Robert Lewandowski leads the line for Poland

Nothing quite compares to the euphoria and the excitement that gathers as a nation unites in patriotic pride when a major football tournament comes around. Often, this can be the birthing pool of national heroes that make a name for themselves, and often it can be the scene of a great underdog story as the hosts exceed all expectations – punching above their weight against the heavyweight champions fighting for the title on their home turf.

This summer, Poland and Ukraine go toe-to-toe with Europe’s elite in their own respective backyards as joint-hosts of Euro 2012. Despite the disappointment for co-hosts Austria and Switzerland four years earlier, the home teams generally have a strong record of progressing to the knockout stages – and it could be the Poles who axe some of the favourites this time round.

Poland are only competing in their second European championship – a surprise considering a golden era in the 70s and 80s for the country, which resulted in third place finishes at the 1974 and 1982 World Cups respectively  – so they’re enjoying their best years as a footballing nation for a couple of decades. They have made it to three of the last four major tournaments, including this summer’s European Championships, but this will be their best chance of progression to the knockout stages yet.

The nucleus of Poland’s squad has developed considerably since failing to make it past the group stages four years ago. With the safe-hands of Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny and a trio of Bundesliga-winning Borussia Dortmund players, Franciszek Smuda’s men have the ability to cause a surprise or two. A recent 0-0 draw against Portugal and a win over Latvia suggest that they come in to the tournament with a bit of form as well.

Number One: Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny has been in fine form this term

Number One: Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny has been in fine form this term

While Szczęsny and Polish compatriot and second choice keeper Łukasz Fabiański have plied their trade in the Premier League for a few seasons now, it is their Bundesliga-based trio who have made the biggest stir this season.

Dortmund, under the guidance of charismatic boss Jürgen Klopp, pipped Champions League finalists Bayern Munich to the league title for the second consecutive season and defeated Bayern 5-2 in the German Cup Final to round off a great season. Much of their success has been down to the influence of their Polish contingent, despite plenty of top German talent at their disposal.

Robert Lewandowski, who is being linked with a big money move to Manchester United this summer, scored 30 goals to fire Dortmund to glory, and he could well be an outside contender for the Euro 2012 Golden boot. Poland’s captain, Jakub Błaszczykowski, made two assists in the German Cup final and has been a regular in the side since 2007 and Łukasz Piszczek, has been a key part of the Dortmund defence this term.

Not only are they top class players, but they come in with crucial confidence that could reflect in strong performances on the pitch. German giants Dortmund had been dormant for the best part of a decade before their 2011 title success, and it is testament to the quality of the three Polish players that they won the league again – despite star midfielder Nuri Sahin leaving for Real Madrid and German wonderkid Mario Götze being ruled out with a hip injury for a large period of the season.

Lewandowski is the hosts’ star man, and undoubtedly they will be expecting great things of him, but the whole squad will have a passionate home crowd on their side and that could inspire them to progression from their group. Poland have been drawn against Czech Republic, Greece and Russia in arguably the weakest group of the tournament and – as we saw when Ghana had the whole of Africa on their side at the 2010 World Cup, home favourites are capable of building up a real head of steam and performing well above their expectations.

Of course there are a lot of very strong European teams that Poland will have to face if they are to upset the odds and progress to the latter stages of the tournament, but there is always a possibility of a dark horse in a major tournament like this. Ghana were agonisingly close to the World Cup semi-finals two years ago, and Poland’s Group A opposition Greece shocked everyone by going all the way in Euro 2004. Who knows, maybe this could be another one of those special years when the form guide goes well and truly out of the window.

Southampton vs Reading: 4 Key Battles That Could Decide The Title Race

Premier League football will be all but confirmed for the winner of Southampton vs Reading this weekend, and the match is sure to live up to its billing.

Championship leaders Southampton take on nearest rivals Reading at St. Mary’s Stadium this evening in a clash that could all but confirm Premier League promotion if one of these sides emerge victorious. Both sides lie six points ahead of heavy pre-season title favourites West Ham United with four games remaining and – with the lucrative goldmine of Premier League football, jobs, star players and all important momentum in jeopardy for one of these sides – here are the key battles that could mean Reading or Southampton have one hand on the football league’s top prize.

Rickie Lambert vs Kaspars Gorkss

Saints have had the most lethal strike force in the Championship season and Reading have the tightest defence, so one of those must surely give for this crunch match. Saints have been in the top two from day one this season, and a catalyst for this sustained streak of superb form has been down to Liverpool-born hit man Rickie Lambert, who has netted 26 times in the league this season, nine more than any other striker.

The all-important role of keeping Lambert quiet may rest on the shoulders of Latvian centre-back Kaspars Gorkss, who has helped Reading form the meanest defence of the division since his arrival in August. Since the turn of the year, Reading have won 14 matches compared to Saints’ 10 and, while they haven’t had one prolific goalscorer in the side, they have shared the goals evenly amongst the frontmen and ground out some crucial slender victories to maintain their fantastic form.

Jos Hooiveld vs Jason Roberts

At the other end of the pitch this evening, a big part of Reading’s attacking threat will form in the powerful frame of 33-year-old striker Jason Roberts. BBC pundit Roberts has caused a big stir in the media since arriving from Premier League strugglers Blackburn in January, and he has proven to be a revelation for the Royals. Eight consecutive wins after his arrival really ignited Reading’s automatic promotion charge. He’s a good finisher, a powerful target man and his years of Premier League experience have been invaluable for the club.

Saints put behind a tough turn of the year with a significant improvement in the side’s defensive performances. Central defensive pairing Jos Hooiveld and Jose Fonte have been vital, and it is towering Dutchman Hooiveld who I would say is best placed to deal with Roberts’ physical and aerial presence. But both defenders have been superb this season, and they will have to be at their best to keep out a confident Reading side.

Danny Fox vs Ian Harte

In such a massive game, the set piece delivery and crossing from full-backs is crucial, and the key for both sides making the breakthrough from set plays comes from left back. Southampton’s Danny Fox has contributed an outstanding 11 assists during his first Championship campaign on the south coast. Fox’s delivery from corners and indirect free-kicks has been quality throughout the season and, while Rickie Lambert is likely to be first choice from shooting range, Fox could be key to breaching the Reading rear-guard.

In blue and white, former Leeds full-back Ian Harte has been a big success. Perhaps more of a threat from shooting range with 14 goals in Reading colours since his arrival in 2010, Harte proved his importance in the side with a vital winner against Brighton on Tuesday night.

Steve De Ridder scored a late equaliser as Saints and Reading drew 1-1 earlier this season

Steve De Ridder scored a late equaliser as Saints and Reading drew 1-1 earlier this season

Adam Lallana vs Jimmy Kebe

In a game like this, both managers would look towards their main playmakers to produce something special – a bit of magic that could be the difference in a tight, tense encounter. In terms of quality that could be crucial in making that difference tonight, you don’t need to look much further than Saints’ Adam Lallana and Reading’s Jimmy Kebe.

Kebe, predominantly a winger with pace and power to terrorise Championship full-backs had a slow start to the season but he has certainly turned it round, scoring a few goals and providing a big threat on the right hand side. The Mali international scored twenty goals from out wide in his first two campaigns under manager Brian McDermott’s stewardship, and you wouldn’t be against him causing Saints problems at St. Mary’s this evening.

Nigel Adkins has described 23-year-old Adam Lallana as the most talented player in the Championship this season, and it is hard to argue otherwise. Lallana was nominated for the Championship player of the year, which Lambert won, and there is no doubt that the team look significantly stronger and more creative with him in the starting line-up. He has scored ten goals this season, but it is his movement, eye for an incisive pass and superb technical skill that has proved vital for the Saints this season, and he is definitely one to watch out for in front of the Sky Sports cameras at 19:45.

First vs second, the best home record against the best away side and the highest scorers against the league’s meanest defence; Southampton versus Reading has all the right ingredients to live up to its billing and have a huge say in the destination of the 2011/12 Championship title. Who fancies a drab 0-0?!

This feature was published in the Sabotage Times. Click here for the link.

Six-figure sponsor deal secures Bournemouth’s ‘best ever’ financial position

A sell out crowd watch on at the newly named Seward Stadium

A sell out crowd watch on at the newly named Seward Stadium

AFC Bournemouth have secured the most significant sponsorship deal in the club’s recent history today, with Seward Motor Group claiming the naming rights to the Dean Court Stadium in a three-year move.

The lucrative six-figure boost leaves Lee Bradbury’s Bournemouth side in their best financial position in recent memory.

The news comes at an important time for the club, as they prepare for a two-legged League One Play-Off clash against heavy favourites Huddersfield Town.

A sell-out crowd is expected for the Cherries’ home tie against the Terriers on Saturday, as they look to secure a key advantage going in to the return match at the Galpharm.

I spoke to manager Bradbury and midfielder Anton Robinson on a very significant day for the club.

The Sports Hour on Nerve Radio, 87.7 FM

As Sports Editor of Bournemouth University’s student station, Nerve Radio, during my final two years of my degree, I launched, co-produced and presented a new show – the Sports Hour.

Last year, it was part of a special two-week broadcast on local FM radio that was also available internationally at The show won ‘Best Talk Show’, among a wealth of competition, during the FM broadcast, and you can listen to both episodes I co-presented right here.

The Sports Hour’s FM Debut: March 14th, 2011.

Along with co-presenter Duggy, I launched the Sports Hour on to FM airwaves for the first time on March 14. The show included post-match reaction to AFC Bournemouth’s 3-1 defeat against local rivals Southampton, interviews with football commentators Dan O’Hagan and Clive Tyldesley, and an interview with former British Super middleweight Boxing Champion Cornelius Carr about his new Pheonix Mixed Martial Arts Gym in Winton.

The Sports Hour: March 21st, 2011.

This was mine and Duggy’s last show on the FM airwaves, and the action-packed hour included interviews with former Arsenal and Tottenham footballer Rohan Ricketts, ex Brentford manager Martin ‘Mad Dog’ on his new project ‘Pro FC’, more Six Nations reaction from Rugby correspondent Steve Johns and a second consecutive defeat for Bournemouth, this time after a 582-mile round trip to Carlisle. Four tickets for promotion-chasing Bournemouth’s crucial home clash against Tranmere Rovers were also up for grabs in a special competition.

Howe to become a legend: Eddie leaves Bournemouth as a hero

Eddie Howe became a fans' favourite after his Bournemouth heroics

Eddie Howe became a fans’ favourite after his Bournemouth heroics

At first the AFC Bournemouth fans will have felt angry and bemused as to why Eddie Howe departed days after he temporarily committed his future to the club, but there is no need for an apology as Howe masterminded an incredible first taste of management that nobody could have envisaged.

Howe arrived on the managerial scene in January 2009 after an injury-plagued playing career where he earned the tag as a fans’ favourite on the south coast. The future looked bleak for the Cherries. Ongoing financial woes led to administration, a total of 27 points deducted in two seasons and the distinct possibility of relegation from the football league looming large.

Fast forward to January 2011, and he leaves as a hero – reflecting on a wonderful two years that restored hope and pride as they maintained their football league status.

Not only that, Howe’s boys gained promotion from League Two in 2010 with a threadbare squad, and continued to defy the critics again as he left the Cherries breathing down the necks of League One leaders Brighton this season.

The only way has been up for Eddie Howe and assistant boss Jason Tindall. Their achievements have been nothing short of incredible. Since Howe took over the reigns, Bournemouth have won 50 out of 100 games, and have done this without being able to field a full substitutes bench for much of the process.

Veteran striker Steve Fletcher, who now takes over Tindall’s duties as assistant manager, has enjoyed a resurgence of form under Howe’s stewardship, and scored the last goal of his tenure before two late goals denied Howe a fitting send off against Colchester.

Howe and Tindall rescued Bournemouth from the brink of League Two relegation

Howe and Tindall rescued Bournemouth from the brink of League Two relegation

Danny Hollands, dogged with knee problems in recent years, fought through the pain barrier to play a key role in the promotion season in League Two and has continued his progress. Clever acquisitions like winger Marc Pugh, Tottenham loanee Adam Smith and former Norwich full back Rhoys Wiggins have been masterstrokes – and those are the type of masterstrokes that Howe continued to pull off in a three-year spell dogged by financial obstacles.

But now he and Tindall have gained their deserved chance at Championship big boys Burnley, and they have every chance of succeeding and making their excellent man-management rub off on the new set of players. Even though the pair are six years younger than Burnley’s oldest workhorse Graham Alexander, they will certainly have the dressing room’s backing, and their previous record shows no reason why they can’t inspire promotion to the Premier League.

Of course, management duo Howe and Tindall have spent the majority of their playing days at Bournemouth, so making the step up to a new division and a new team will have its challenges. Chairmen are more fickle than ever in the modern game, and time to settle is a rare luxury, so the pair will need to adjust to life in the Championship quickly and have a solid six months to secure their futures. But the man management, the desire and the application is something that won’t go away, and if they have every tool in their armoury to produce the goods and be the youngest Managerial duo in the Premier League.

Vancouver Whitecaps building for the Big League

Niall Malone at Whitecaps head office

Niall Malone at Whitecaps head office

Ever since its birth in 1994, North America’s Major League Soccer has been living in the shadows of the main players on European shores. But in recent years, the captures of global superstars like David Beckham and Thierry Henry have made people stand up and take notice – and the Vancouver Whitecaps could be the next big thing as they enter the MLS in 2011.

One man who has experienced the heart beat of the Caps’ revolution, which sees them become only the second Canadian team in the top division of the “Franchise”, dominated by American sides, is former AFC Bournemouth press officer Niall Malone. Malone spent the summer as Media Relations and Broadcast Assistant and fixed his eyes on the incredible vision that the club is building, epitomised by the ongoing construction of a retractable roof on the $600million BC Place Stadium, which will be ready for the Whitecaps debut season in the MLS next year.

Much like the United States and Canada as a whole, Vancouver has had a rich tradition in the likes of American Football, Ice Hockey and Baseball but Soccer – one of the most played sports in the US – is enjoying a meteoric rise in popularity, one of the key attractions that brought Malone to Canada.

He said: “It had always been a long held ambition of mine to work abroad, for a sports team. America and Canada were always massive attractions with the Franchise industry out there.”

The newly built BC place stadium, and its stunning surroundings

The newly built BC place stadium, and its stunning surroundings

And amongst Vancouver’s picturesque surroundings, the Whitecaps are creating their own impressive image. As well as a state-of-the-art training ground, the Whitecaps have one of the best Residency Schemes across the whole of North America – which is the equivalent of the British youth academy system. But as with every successful sports team, the infrastructure, players and staff are an integral part of the club’s drive to the big time. Vancouver join MLS newcomers Portland Timbers having finished second in their North American Soccer League Conference, and are in the process of bringing in players with experience in Europe.

Malone added: “The residency programme out there is fairly uncommon, but the Whitecaps have arguably the best one anywhere in North America and they continue to produce lots of players for their first team of good standard as well.”

Under the guidance of Head Coach Teitur Thordason, who has a range of experience at top-flight clubs in France and Scandinavia, the Whitecaps have won a League Championship and made a League Final appearance during the last three seasons. Thordarson, who has worked with Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and Aston Villa boss Gerrard Houllier during an established career, secured a contract extension to guide the team in their first taste of the MLS.

The standard made an immediate impact with Malone, who said: “I was really impressed with the quality of the players they have at the moment and some of the players they have been recruiting from other clubs. They have got players that have played in France, Germany and elsewhere so their experience shouldn’t be a problem.

“Whether or not they will sign a designated player, which in our terms is the equivalent of Los Angeles Galaxy signing David Beckham, remains to be seen. I’m not sure if that is the way they want to build their brand. I expect if they do, their focus will still remain on their residency programme.”

The designated player rule allows MLS teams to sign an international player of star quality, and they have restricted the amount of designated players after a number of teams went into financial meltdown in the early years of American Soccer.

Big name captures like Beckham, Henry, ex-Arsenal midfielder Freddie Ljungberg and former Barcelona defender Rafael Marquez have certainly boosted the popularity of the sport in the United States and Canada, and the Whitecaps have their own man who has reached the pinnacle of the English Premier League in Chief Executive Officer Paul Barber. Former Tottenham Hotspur executive director Barber has built a reputation as one of the top executives in European football and is an example of the Whitecaps’ ambition.

“The ‘Caps are at one of, if not the most, exciting chapters in their history. To be part of that was fantastic. And there is a massive appetite for football out there. Their head coach has got good pedigree; he likes to play attractive football and is really experienced. Overall I think they are set up to go forward”.

Malone, who has worked with Tottenham as well as being Press Officer at Bournemouth, said there’s no reason why Vancouver can’t establish themselves as a top MLS side.

“I really don’t think they will struggle in the MLS at all – whether it be fan base or player acquisition. Even down to the fact that their kit sponsor is Adidas and their corporate sponsor is Bell Canada – they’re a serious organisation and I think they will do really well.”

So it is clear that the Whitecaps are moving forward fast and could be a force to be reckoned with as Major League Soccer continues to grow. Having hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics, Vancouver has certainly shown it is a destination worthy of sport as a global spectacle, and a Soccer team that was relatively unknown outside Canada may well bring a worldwide sporting fever to Vancouver again.

This feature was for blogging site ‘Back Page Football’. Click here for the article link.