I am delighted to announce my first children’s book – “Football’s Champions of Change”

This has been a labour of love and serious hard work but I am delighted to announce that my first children’s book “Football’s Champions of Change” will be published on September 14th. Thank you to the publishers Welbeck/Hachette for their expert advice and staunch support. I will be out and about promoting the book during the summer.

This is the synopsis on Amazon.

“This inspirational book charts the history of the anti-racism movement in English football and beyond, shining a light on both the divisive and unifying power of the beautiful game. Discover the star footballers, including the likes of Arthur Wharton and Walter Tull from the early days, as well as modern greats Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Bukayo Saka who have faced and fought racial bigotry on the pitch and helped advance the cause. There are also commentaries and insights from coaches, referees as well as grassroots activists who are prominent voices. It also features inspiring vox pops from young, modern-day aspiring players and fans from different ethnic backgrounds, explaining their experiences and their own battle (and triumphs) to be treated equally on the pitch and in society.”

Instagram @hachettechidrens

Twitter @HachetteKids @welbeckpublish

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Tom Ince finally emerging from dad Paul’s giant shadow

“I feel that this team and the way they play and the way the manager wants his four front players to play suits me.” He told me.

“Previously, I had stints at two other clubs and it didn’t really suit the way I wanted to play. I didn’t really get the opportunity to play. I never got a consistent run of games. So I was always stop starting and never felt my PL career had been given an opportunity to take flight.”

Huddersfield have surprised many at how they have adapted to the Premier League after being out of the top flight for over forty years. Ince has been a key figure and has not given up hope of following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a regular England international.

“Yes, 100 per cent. I think I look at the young players coming through the England system now and the way Gareth Southgate does it. He watches a lot of games, gives players a lot of opportunities. Now it’s down to me as a player. I have been given the opportunity to play for Huddersfield and showcase what I can do. England runs deep in my family with my dad playing at the World Cup and all the rest of it and captaining the country. So it’s always been a dream and an ambition and one I am working for.”

Tom's Dad Paul InceDad Paul Ince played for West Ham, Manchester United and Liverpool

So, is dad still on his case when it comes to guiding his football career. Tom insists not.

“I just put the phone down on him when he starts talking about that. Of course, he always looks out for my games. He’s always watching them and he will always be there even when I am 32 and 33 and on my last legs he will be there so it’s great to have. He knows I am man enough to know when I have performed well. He’s always on my shoulder. But he feels it is my career now and it’s about building and being the best I can be.”

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A whole new ball game in the MLS

There was familiar sense of anticipation among Orlando’s purple clad hordes on the approach to their cavernous home ground the Citrus Bowl. Their team was entertaining Colorado Rapids. Orlando Soccer Club’s main attraction is the Brazilian superstar Kaka. Colorado boasted the more modest talents of former Wolves and Reading striker Kevin Doyle. Once inside the stadium, the differences between this and the Premier League started to become more immediately apparent. Football themed concession stands offered up pre match chilli dogs and nachos. We were shown to our seats by a charming member of staff from “guest services” who cheerily encouraged us to enjoy our evening.The match kicked off. Much of Orlando’s play naturally went through Kaka. Any threat he posed was snuffed out though as Colorado Rapids defended narrowly, although one header from him flashed across the face of goal.

Thousands of home fans wore shirts sporting the Brazilian’s name.The stadium features a “Supporters’ Section” where more boisterous fans let rip with chanting and flag waving. It was an artificial way of generating atmosphere. The area where I was sitting was more genteel surrounded by families who offered more measured encouragement. They demonstrated a decent knowledge of the game though. Many expressed frustration when their team failed to commit more men into the box when they had possession in promising areas.

The top two tiers of the 65-thousand capacity stadium were closed but the rest of the ground was pretty full. Three giant HD television screens showed pin sharp replays of the key moments of which there were few in a quiet first half.

Things were to improve for the home team. They hit the post but a  goal was coming. Orlando’s coach Adrian Heath, still recognisable from his playing pomp at Everton, was an increasingly animated presence on the touchline. Colorado could sense the tension. A rash challenge led to a booking. “Ladies and gentlemen, the referee has issued a yellow card to number 27 Ramos,” the PA announcer helpfully interjected.

Kyle Larin tapped in from close range to give Orlando the lead. The moment the home supporters had been waiting for then duly arrived. Kaka received the ball in the inside right position and produced a slide rule finish into the far corner. The ground erupted. There were no visiting fans. They don’t seem to feature much in the American game due to the vast distances between most MLS clubs.

A light aircraft braved the thunder and dodged the lightning to deliver a message from the sponsors. “We are hot for Kaka”, the neon sign on the underside of the fuselage spelled out.

Gerrard and Lampard  – not to mention visiting supporters from Europe – will find a very different and evolving football culture in the U.S.A. Kaka and a few others aside, the standard is not up to Premier League level but two of England’s finest are sure to be greeted as heroes by their respective new clubs. The other good news is that they are unlikely to play in 90 degree heat  – at least, not every single week.

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Planet Earth just can’t get enough of the English Premier League

The world’s insatiable appetite for all things Premier League shows no sign of abating. 212 territories now devour content produced by IMG in west London as part of a massive multi-million pound contract for overseas rights. I have had a real insight into the global reach of England’s top flight by presenting some of the programmes this season.

IMG is a worldwide sports and media company who deliver much of that programming as well as providing a good source of work for jobbing broadcasters like me. They screen all 380 matches each season and countless other highlights, news, phone-in and preview shows which the foreign market laps up. The potential TV audience for Premier League games is put at a whopping 4.7 billion across the globe making it the most watched league in the world.

So, what are the programmes that fans abroad are watching? “Fanzone” is a daily Premier League phone-in often hosted by the former West Ham and Fulham striker Leroy Rosenior. I occasionally play Jacqui Oatley to Leroy’s Manish Bhasin, for those who remember the early days of the BBC’s “Football League Show”, reading out emails and texts.

The audience response is remarkable. One minute Kenrick, a Liverpool fan from Jamaica, is waxing lyrical about Brendan Rogers. The next Emmanuel from Nigeria is desperate to debate Chelsea’s title chances. The calls and emails come in thick and fast from across the globe and all the contributors speak with real passion and genuine knowledge.

There are three half hour Premier League news bulletins every weekday at noon, 6pm and 10pm. I present some of those on a Monday. On match days the building becomes a revolving door for some of the top pundits. Andy Townsend, Michael Owen, Ian Wright and Alan Curbishley are all regular visitors and familiar faces for the overseas audiences as well as domestic ones.

On a recent trip to Johannesburg to open a new fan park, the Premier League’s Chief Executive Richard Scudamore acknowledged the massive demand for English football abroad. “There’s nowhere that enjoys the Premier League more than here in South Africa,” he said. “It’s quite incredible. All the research shows there are more people who are interested in it here than there are at home as a percentage of the population.”

Only a fraction of the material produced for the overseas market ever gets aired here but you may well catch some of it if you travel abroad during the football season. It is worth bearing in mind that the next time your club splashes out tens of millions of pounds on a new star player they are able to do so in part because of the worldwide appeal of the English game.

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A Saturday afternoon in the life of a football reporter

My assignment for Final Score was newly-promoted Doncaster Rovers versus Blackpool. To cover any match as a reporter, preparation is the key. In fact, covering a game outside of the Premier League requires even more research. Every development in the top flight is reported in minute detail by the various media outlets, so that information is usually right in front of you. You have to look a bit harder to find out the latest on the Doncaster Rovers takeover or who Blackpool have signed in the close season. If you get the details wrong, supporters are rarely shy about telling you.

I usually know my fixtures four or five weeks ahead. Preparation for the next match begins the week before with Match of the Day and Match of the Day 2. As well as following the general cut and thrust of all of the Premier League fixtures, I pay special attention to the two sides I will be covering. During the following week, I take a similar approach by keeping across all football stories but jotting down rough notes for the game ahead and chatting to contacts. If either of the two teams are in action in midweek, I make a point of watching the games or at least the highlights to keep on top of their current form, injuries or other stories. I usually  present sports news bulletins and film an item for Football Focus during the week possibly with one of the teams I will be reporting on, so that clearly helps. By Friday, I look to put together the final match notes which I take with me to the ground. They will include line ups, details of most recent matches, top scorers, disciplinary record, referee and any other news.

Saturday dawns with a look at the sport on BBC News, Sky Sports News, the back pages, some websites and Twitter. Breakfast is taken on the hoof and then it’s time to hit the road with BBC Five Live for company all the way. I aim to arrive at the ground at 1pm. I plug in and test my broadcasting equipment in the press box or on the gantry then it’s time for lunch in the press room. This is a chance to catch up with colleagues and chat about any developing stories. Social media is becoming an increasingly important tool for reporters. Most are glued to Twitter looking for information from players, other reporters and fans or offering observations and news of their own. I was once at Everton when Louis Saha was surprisingly absent from the match day squad. A quick look at Twitter revealed him sounding off about the decision to drop him. We had an instant news story before a ball had been kicked. Social media has been brilliant for journalists in that respect. Managers probably have a slightly different opinion.

I  receive last minute instructions from the editor of Final Score, Steve Rudge and pick up the team sheet at about 2.15pm. It’s time to write a piece setting the scene for when the programme comes on air on the BBC HD Channel at 2.30pm. The aim is to provide the most significant team news and give the viewer a reason to be interested in that game. It may have a significant bearing on the title race, a top four position, relegation or a manager’s future. The bigger the game, the more often the reporter is called upon to update the viewers of Final Score. The programme reaches a climax when coverage switches to BBC One which guarantees a big audience especially in the winter months as the nation begins to sit down to enjoy a Saturday evening’s viewing.

As it turned out, there was little drama at the Keepmoat Stadium with Blackpool completing a fairly routine 3-1 victory although Doncaster Rovers played some good stuff for a spell. With little controversy, the post match interviews with the managers for that night’s Football League Show were straightforward too – Paul Ince was delighted, Paul Dickov slightly less so.

Other days will be more dramatic than this. Of that, you can be sure. I carry no torch for Manchester City but the climax to their title-winning season is unlikely to be matched for excitement. I was privileged to be there to witness it. After forty odds weeks of Premier League combat, for it to come down to the last kick of the last match to decide the destiny of the title was extraordinary. The race for honours looks more open this season than it has for quite a while. I am lucky to be able to report on every twist and turn between now and next May.

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