Marcus Stead

Journalist Marcus Stead

European Super League debacle: History repeats itself

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TO UNSERSTAND the events of the last few days, it’s important to grasp that to very large extent, history is repeating itself. Back In the mid-1990s, Europe’s supposedly ‘biggest’ clubs threatened to break away to form a Super League.

In reality, it was a bargaining strategy with UEFA. The ‘big’ clubs wanted to participate in a top-tier European competition every season, regardless of whether they’d actually won their domestic league, with a view to ‘cashing in’ during the latter stages of the season as the glamour clubs went head-to-head.

UEFA responded by expanding the Champions League. The 1996/97 competition featured only the champions of the European domestic competitions, but by 1999/2000 it had been expanded so that up to the top four finishers in Europe’s leading domestic leagues would receive a place in the Champions League. This, along with a ‘consolation prize’ of entry into the UEFA Cup in the event of an exit in the early stages of the Champions League was enough to appease the ‘big’ clubs for the next two decades.

The impact on both the Premier League and the Champions League was instant. Manchester United won the Champions League in the 1998/99 season after finishing second behind Arsenal in the Premier League the previous season. It no longer mattered that you weren’t a ‘champion’ playing in the Champions League.

Manchester United 1999
Manchester United won the Champions League in 1999 after finishing second in the Premier League the previous season

Domestic football, too, had changed forever. Finishing in the top four of the Premier League now took priority over winning the FA Cup, which meant that it quickly became the norm for clubs with a realistic hope of making it fielding weakened teams in what was once a competition not far off equal importance to winning the league.

The expansion of the Champions League was the ‘killer blow’ to the FA Cup’s status in this country, far more so than the launch of the Premier League, the playing of the cup final in Cardiff during the years Wembley Stadium was redeveloped, or Manchester United’s non-participation in the 1999/2000 competition due to the clash with the FIFA Club World Championship.

Despite UEFA buckling to the pressure put on them by the big clubs 25 years ago, there are significant problems with the Champions League. In recent years, we firstly saw live matches disappear from free-to-air TV, followed a few seasons later by the disappearance of highlights. The competition’s profile and the overall level of awareness among the British public has dwindled as a result. It’s a far cry from those days in the 1990s when there would be at least one live match per week on ITV, with the various regions having the freedom to opt out of network coverage to show their local clubs in action, as Tyne Tees did for Newcastle United and Carlton London did for Arsenal, and Scottish/Grampian did for Rangers and Celtic on a regular basis. Wednesday nights (and for periods, Tuesday nights) were Champions League nights on ITV for more than two decades. People knew where to find it, brand awareness grew.

Yet even then, there was a problem. Desmond Lynam, who presented ITV’s coverage of the Champions League in the late 1990s and early 2000s, articulated it well in his Daily Telegraph column some years after retiring. To put it bluntly, the Champions League just isn’t all that interesting until after Christmas, once the group stages are over. In a substantial number of cases, Champions League group stage matches are about travelling to a far-flung location to play a side most casual fans will have barely heard of or not care much about, and ‘get the job done’ in terms of making sure of a not-very-glamorous win. The competition only really springs to life in the knockout stages when the big head-to-head clashes take place, and even then, there’s an argument for saying ‘first leg’ matches are often cagey, defensive affairs, with lots of emphasis on not conceding away goals.

Des Lynam ITV
Desmond Lynam presented ITV’s Champions League coverage in the late 1990s and early 2000s

So where does that leave us? The main difference between the behaviour of the ‘big’ clubs in the mid-1990s and what’s happened now is that they’ve ramped it up a notch by resigning from the European Club Association. They are wielding their power with a might, as well as an unpleasant arrogance that would’ve seemed unthinkable 25 years ago, when it was clear from the outset that dialogue and compromise with UEFA was their preferred option.

Have the ‘big’ clubs overplayed their hand? Yes. Putting the very strong fan opposition to one side, the novelty of the same clubs playing each other season in, season out, with no promotion and relegation, would become stale within five to ten years. Expulsion from domestic competitions and the threat of players signed to the clubs involved being unable to play for their national teams would act as a disincentive to many, particularly if clubs not invited to take part in the Super League were able to offer similar salaries.

There are many fans who are calling on UEFA, the FA and the Premier League to cut the clubs loose, expel them and effectively tell them to get lost. Their actions over the last few days would make that entirely justifiable, and few of their own fans would argue against it as things stand.

In terms of ‘hardball’ negotiations, it is imperative that UEFA does not guarantee any club admittance to the Champions League, regardless of where they finish in their domestic leagues. A Champions League place is something to be earned. It’s not something that you have ‘by right’ because you consider your club to be ‘big’.

The reality is this: Any football fan over 60 can remember a time when Manchester United were playing in England’s second tier. Any fan over 25 can remember a time when Manchester City were playing in the third tier. Blackburn Rovers were the unexpected winners of the Premier League in 1995. Leicester City won the Premier League title in 2016, during only their second season back in the top flight.

Even the biggest, most glamorous clubs can go through substantial lean periods, while unglamorous clubs can win the league title and compete at European football’s top table, as Brian Clough demonstrated when his Nottingham Forest team twice won the European Cup, the precursor to the Champions League.

Can a suitable compromise be found? Possibly. First of all, it is essential that UEFA stands its ground in ensuring that every club that takes part in the Champions League has to be there by right in terms of a high finish in their domestic league. Without that, the competition’s credibility is shot to pieces. The one area where there might be some room for manoeuvre is by turning the Champions League into a 12 team league competition, with every team playing every other home and away in midweek slots between January and the end of the season in May.

The league champions of Europe’s strongest domestic leagues would be in the new Champions League by rights. They would occupy, say, half of the 12 places. The remaining places would be fought out between clubs finishing second to fourth in the strongest domestic leagues, along with the winners of the weaker leagues, in a qualification competition to be played in midweek slots between August and November, roughly along the lines of the current Champions League group stages.

This solution is far from perfect. The reality is that, at the time of writing, Liverpool lie sixth in the Premier League, Tottenham Hotspur are seventh, Chelsea are fifth, and Arsenal are ninth. None would make the qualifying competition for the Champions League of 12 places. Under such a system, Manchester United, currently second in the league, would have to battle it out against less glamorous sides during the autumn and early winter for a place among the 12.

There is no perfect solution to this conundrum. Yes, most of us would like to see Europe’s biggest clubs face each other more frequently. But who those clubs are changes over time and football would lose a vital ingredient if followers of clubs with a lower profile were robbed of the dream of European silverware. At the same time, few could really argue against the statement that the Champions League in its current format doesn’t really ‘get going’ until the group stages are over.

The clubs planning to break away have overplayed their hand. The reaction from the fans, ex-players, managers, the Prime Minister, opposition politicians, members of the Royal family, respected journalists and just about anyone else you can think of has been negative. They deserve nothing less than to be expelled from competitions sanctioned by UEFA, the FA and the Premier League. Football’s governing bodies have their faults, some of them very serious. None are particularly well-run, but it is imperative for the good of the game that they stand their ground against the greed and arrogance we have witnessed in recent days.

Written by Marcus Stead

April 20, 2021 at 12:02 am

Posted in Business, Opinion, Sport

Twenty Minute Topic Episode 56: Prince Philip Remembered

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FOLLOWING the death of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh at the age of 99, Marcus Stead and Greg Lance-Watkins reflect on his extraordinary life of duty and service in this special ‘double dose’ edition of Twenty Minute Topic.

He was born in 1921 in Corfu, but the family was forced to flee Greece following a military coup.

His education at Gordonstoun school proved to be character-forming, and he went on to have a distinguished career in the Royal Navy, where he was mentioned in dispatches for his service during the battle of Cape Matapan.

Following his marriage to Princess Elizabeth in 1947, Prince Philip dedicated himself to a life of duty and service, and following the death of King George VI in 1952, he was forced to abandon his promising naval career to dedicate himself full-time to being the Queen’s consort.

Prince Philip
HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

The podcast also discusses his many passions – British industry, animal conservation, bringing the best out of young people and carriage driving.

Other aspects of his life discussed during the podcast include his role as a great moderniser of the Royal household, and the support he gave to the Queen and to the rest of the family.

Greg tells of the occasion where he met Prince Philip in the 1960s. To those he met, he was very well-informed, had a wicked sense of humour, but had a gruff, no-nonsense manner and didn’t suffer fools.

Towards the end of the podcast, Marcus and Greg discuss how the Queen will adapt to life without her husband of more than 73 years.

The podcast is available on the Talk Podcasts website, iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, SoundCloud, Spotify and the TuneIn app.

Written by Marcus Stead

April 10, 2021 at 2:04 am

Posted in Comment, Opinion, Review

Brexit and Northern Ireland

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Marcus Stead on Radio Sputnik

ON TUESDAY 16 March, I appeared on Radio Sputnik to discuss the possibility of the EU taking legal action against the UK Government over breaches of the Withdrawal Agreement with regards to border checks in Northern Ireland.

I argued that more than two months after the Brexit deal was implemented, it has been an overwhelming success, with supermarket shelves well-stacked, while being outside the EU has undoubtedly benefitted UK citizens with regards to the rollout of the Covid vaccine, which has been far more speedy and efficient than in EU countries, saving lives as a result.

However, I argued that the situation with regards to Northern Ireland urgently needs addressing.

This particular threat of legal action by the EU will prove to be a storm in a teacup, we shouldn’t make light of the wider issues, which are affecting people’s lives in Northern Ireland.

For example, people are seeing notices saying ‘we don’t deliver to Northern Ireland’ when ordering items such as CDs on Amazon, which is clearly an absurdity.

Furthermore, there are concerns over the need for pet passports. Tourists and visitors bringing dogs from Great Britain to Northern Ireland are going to have to get a rabies certificate and a health certificate, despite the fact we haven’t had rabies in Great Britain or Northern Ireland for years.

Ignoring this problem will only make things worse. UK law and EU law are still very similar at the moment, but as they diverge in the months and years ahead, this will create problems.

First of all, it risks Northern Ireland not benefitting from any positive changes the UK makes, and also, when the EU decides to change something, Northern Ireland is going to have to go along with it, even if it is damaging to the country.

Looking at the bigger picture, we are already seeing the benefits of being outside the EU. On New Year’s Day, VAT on sanitary products was abolished. That would not have been possible if we were still in the EU. By the end of this year, the UK looks set to ban the export of live animals for slaughter. Good! But that isn’t going to be able to happen in Northern Ireland because Northern Ireland will still be subject to EU rules.

Right now, it feels as though Northern Ireland is being treated as a second class part of the United Kingdom. This is the one area of the whole Brexit package that gives cause for concern. And it needs addressing URGENTLY.

Written by Marcus Stead

March 20, 2021 at 3:22 am

Posted in Comment, Law, Opinion, Politics

Twenty Minute Topic Episode 55: Harry and Meghan – The Oprah Interview

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Prince Harry Meghan Markle Oprah Winfrey
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle during their interview with Oprah Winfrey

AS THE dust settles following the broadcast of Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle earlier in the week, Marcus Stead and Greg Lance-Watkins discuss the fall-out. Are they victims, or self-centred narcissists?

It appears as though Meghan married into the Royal Family believing they would adapt to ‘Project Meghan’, and, as someone who is used to getting her own way, she did not appear to understand she was committing to a life of duty and service.

During the interview, much was made by Meghan about the restrictions placed on her personal freedom, yet did she attempt to work around that with other members of the Royal Family and the staff to reach an understanding?

One of the most controversial aspects of the interview were Meghan’s claims that inappropriate comments were made by somebody connected to them when speculating about the colour of baby Archie’s skin. Yet not much has been said about the context of the comments – were they a case of them saying ‘will the baby look more like its mother, or its father?’ (a commonplace comment among families expecting a baby, especially when the parents have different racial backgrounds), or were there more sinister connotations? There are almost certainly two sides to this story.

Much has been made of Meghan’s claims that she wasn’t given the support she needed when experiencing mental health difficulties. Yet she is by no means the first member of the Royal Family to go through such problems. Her husband, Prince Harry, has received therapy and support for his own mental health struggles. Could he not have picked up the phone and contacted his therapist and arranged appropriate support for his wife?

The podcast is available on the Talk Podcasts website, iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, SoundCloud, Spotify and the TuneIn app.  

Written by Marcus Stead

March 10, 2021 at 11:44 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Prince Harry and Meghan: What they said to Oprah

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PRINCE Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah Winfrey has just aired on CBS in the United States, and will be shown on ITV at 9pm this evening.

The interview is REALLY explosive stuff. It begins with Meghan on her own and Harry joins her later on. Here are the key points:

* Meghan says Kate made her cry and bought her flowers by way of apology.

* Meghan says they wouldn’t give security protection or a Royal title for her baby Archie.

* Meghan says a senior member of the Royal Family expressed concerns about how dark her baby’s skin would be.

* Meghan says she was feeling suicidal but was prevented from getting the help she wanted.

* They’re having a baby GIRL in the summer.

* Prince Harry said their security in Canada was taken away due to their ‘change in status’.

* Prince Harry talks of ‘a lack of support and a lack of understanding from ‘The Firm”.

* Prince Harry claims Prince Charles ‘stopped taking his calls’ in the run-up to his announcement that he was stepping away from life as a working Royal.

* Prince Harry says there was a lack of support from the Royal Family over supposed racial abuse his wife was experiencing.

* Prince Harry says his father and his brother are ‘trapped’ in the system and Royal life.

* Prince Harry claims his family ‘cut him off financially’ in the first half of 2020, and that he’s using the money Diana left him to live on.

* Prince Harry claims he has a good relationship with the Queen, but there are things to ‘work through’ with his father, Prince Charles. He says it’s his priority to try and ‘heal’ that relationship.

* Prince Harry says he and Prince William were ‘on different paths’.

* Prince Harry says he is very much aware of the conversion about baby Archie’s skin tone, but that isn’t something he isn’t comfortable talking about and won’t reveal details.

* Prince Harry says he would still be there if he’d received the support he needed.

* Prince Harry says he was ‘hurt’ by the Queen’s decision last month to remove his titles.

* Prince Harry says his current relationship with his brother is one of ‘space’, but that ‘time heals all things’.

* Meghan says her one regret is believing the Royal Family when they said she would be protected.

* Prince Harry claims his mother would be ‘angry about how things panned out’.

* Prince Harry claims Meghan ‘saved’ her and they both said the story has a ‘happy ending’.

Written by Marcus Stead

March 8, 2021 at 3:02 am

Posted in Review

Is Wales heading for a constitutional crisis?

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WALES may be heading for a constitutional crisis. With elections to the Welsh Parliament due in just two months’ time, there is a very real possibility that Labour, who have governed with or without a coalition partner since devolution began in 1999, will fall well short of the 30 seats they need to form a majority.

But this is not comparable to times where Labour has fallen short before, such as in 1999 when they entered into a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, or 2007 when they agreed the ‘One Wales’ deal with Plaid Cymru.

If the YouGov poll published on St David’s Day is to be believed, Labour are heading for their worst ever return, with just 24 seats. The Lib Dems will retain just one seat, the Conservatives will return 16 members, up from 12 at present, while Plaid Cymru will finish with 14, up from 11 last time around, but well short of their record high of 17 in 1999. The Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party would win the remaining five seats.

The basic arithmetic dictates that the most likely outcome would be another Labour and Plaid Cymru coalition. But it won’t be as simple as that. The 2007 ‘One Wales’ agreement paved the way for a referendum in 2011 on giving the Assembly law-making powers similar to those granted to the Scottish Parliament, which was subsequently won by the ‘Yes’ side with 63% of the vote on a miserable turnout of below 36%.

The ‘One Wales’ agreement was criticised by some senior figures within Welsh Labour at the time, who claimed it would lead ‘nationalists to the gates of independence’.

A decade on, and the institution has been renamed the ‘Welsh Parliament’, without the consent of the people, and the institution has tax-varying powers, which the ballot paper in the referendum explicitly said it could not make laws on.

Adam Price became Plaid Cymru leader in September 2018 following a leadership contest in which he pledged not to enter into coalition with Labour or the Conservatives. In his words, the very idea should be ‘taken off the table’.

By October 2020, Price had softened his stance, to only be willing to enter into a coalition with Labour if Plaid were the largest party, or if it was an ‘equal partnership’. The former is very clearly not going to happen, while with 14 seats, his democratic mandate for an ‘equal partnership’ with Labour would be weak, yet with no other possible coalition partners, Labour may well be tempted to give Price what he wants.

Welsh Labour has effectively morphed into the party Plaid Cymru was in the late 1990s, keen on ‘Home Rule’, as outlined by Mark Drakeford last week, but less enthusiastic about independence. Plaid Cymru has become a much more hardline party, combining a drive for Welsh independence with an obsession with woke issues. Some opinion polls have hinted at a modest increase in support for Welsh independence over the course of the last year, but this has in no way resulted in an increase in opinion poll ratings for Plaid Cymru.

A BBC Wales/ICM poll last week put support for Welsh independence at 14%, behind support for abolishing the Welsh Parliament at 15%. Despite this, Price may well push for devolution of broadcasting, criminal justice and even a roadmap towards a referendum on independence as part of a coalition deal with Labour.

Welsh nationalism sits uncomfortably as a concept outside Plaid Cymru’s heartlands in west and north west Wales, and beyond the small network of middle-class, interconnected Crachach families based in and around Cardiff who dominate the Welsh media, arts, civil service and higher education sectors.

Most Welsh people only have to look back four or five generations to find they are at least part-descended from English ancestry, and while winding up our neighbours is good fun when we beat them at rugby, we overwhelmingly consider ourselves both Welsh and part of a wider British family.

Figures released in July 2019 by the Office for National Statistics showed public spending in Wales was £13.7 billion more than the total amount collected in taxes, which works out as a deficit of £4,376 per person. Making up that shortfall alone in a post-independence Wales would, in itself, be a huge task.

Welsh nationalists often like to claim that England is somehow responsible for short-changing Wales and is condemning the Welsh people to poverty, but the facts simply don’t back that up.

In 2018/19, public spending per person in the UK as a whole was £9,584, but in Wales, the figure was £10,656, which is 11% above the average. In other words, the people of Wales are having their public services and infrastructure invested in to a far higher extent than the UK average, subsidised by the English taxpayer. This might be an inconvenient truth to some, but it is a truth nevertheless. Meanwhile, social security spending (currently a non-devolved area) is £670 per person per year higher in Wales than the UK average.

Drakeford’s calls for ‘Home Rule’ last week, echoed by his predecessor Carwyn Jones, effectively means asking the English taxpayer to subsidise Wales’s standard of living, while not allowing them any say in how Wales is governed. That means taxation without representation. Under those conditions, how long would it be before voters in less affluent parts of England start questioning why so much money is given to Wales instead of to their regions?

Welsh nationalists occupy a very dark corner of the Twittersphere, where abusive pile-ons of their opponents is commonplace. Yet they are incapable of answering even the most basic of questions as to how an independent Wales would function: What currency would we use? What would we do about our share of the national debt? How would a hard border with England operate? Most Welsh nationalists support EU membership, yet would Wales meet EU membership criteria for a functioning market economy? And how would Wales cope in the period of around a decade between applying for EU membership, and actually becoming members?

When asked these questions, we are normally faced with some vague waffle about selling water to England, after which point, they either become abusive or give up with meaningless ‘it is better to be poor and free’ type arguments, which don’t cut much ice with most Welsh people.

With the Welsh media largely controlled by individuals sympathetic to Welsh nationalism, there is a danger in the months ahead that the issue of independence, while not at the forefront of the minds of most Welsh voters, will nevertheless occupy far too much airtime and column inches at the expense of issues that actually matter to people: The lack of job opportunities, poor standards in education, an NHS in crisis, Wales’s inability to hold on to its bright graduates, poor transport links, poor infrastructure, slow broadband, crime, anti-social behaviour,  and the lack of a skilled private sector.

Wednesday’s Budget saw Chancellor Rishi Sunak announce a £30 million investment for the Global Centre of Rail Excellence in Ystradgynlais/Powys, £4.8 million for the Holyhead Hydrogen Hub and £58 million to accelerate the creation of 13,000 jobs in north, mid and south west Wales. The Chancellor also committed an extra £740 million extra for the Welsh Government directly to help fund its responsibilities. This, in effect, is English taxpayers’ money. It is morally right that they are therefore given a substantial say in how Wales is governed.

Chancellor Sunak also signalled his intensions to reduce the UK deficit to below 3% of GDP in the medium term. Even if that is achieved, Wales’s fiscal deficit would still be between 15-20% of GDP. A Wales outside the United Kingdom would be massively poorer, and it is reckless and dishonest of nationalists to pretend otherwise. Furthermore, how would Wales borrow money, and who would lend to an independent Wales, with little confidence in the debt being kept at a manageable figure or in their ability to pay it back?

The situation in which Wales finds itself ought to be put into a wider context. It is part of a half-finished, ill-conceived devolution project started by the Blair government. Fewer than one in for of the Welsh electorate voted for the creation of the Assembly in 1997. Fewer than one in five voted to increase its powers in the referendum of 2011.

The people of Scotland were told that the independence referendum of 2014 would be a ‘once in a generation’ event, yet here we are apparently close to another referendum in less than a lifespan of a domestic rabbit. The Scottish independence debate has utterly toxified politics in Scotland, and as Andrew Neil pointed out in his article for the Daily Mail last week, the very levers of democracy in Scotland: an independent judiciary, independent police forces, a robust and free press, and a legislature holding the executive to account, have all been severely damaged by years of SNP rule. Serious talk about the Scottish economy, healthcare, education, housing and public services are overshadowed by ongoing rows over independence. The ongoing situation with regards to the treatment of Alex Salmond provides a strong case for the UK Government to suspend devolution in Scotland, which increasingly resembles a banana republic.

London has also seceded to a far greater degree than many people realise. The capital city thinks, votes and behaves very differently to the rest of the country. Under Sadiq Khan, violent crime has spiralled out of control, areas of London that were pleasant places to live 30 years ago have become overtaken by gang warfare. Getting from A to B has become a nightmare, with ill-thought-out cycle lanes and other absurd measures.

The half-baked system of regional mayors has also brought with it instances of scandal, waste and corruption, along with tensions between regional and national government. Is this layer of government and bureaucracy necessary on an island so small?

The United Kingdom is facing a constitutional crisis, and the need to confront these issues head-on has become all the more urgent during the course of the ongoing pandemic.

Written by Marcus Stead

March 4, 2021 at 6:22 pm

BDO Enterprises Ltd receives winding-up order

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JUST ABOUT everybody in the darting fraternity now accepts that troubled regulator the British Darts Organisation has no future, but that hasn’t stopped chairman Des Jacklin from posting wildly ambitious claims about the organisation’s future.

On the evening of Friday 19 February, Jacklin was widely-condemned after revealing on Facebook that he had made  a 430-mile round trip from Lincolnshire to South Wales to retrieve the BDO Men’s World Championship trophy from the police, in breach of Covid travel restrictions.

Des Jacklin BDO
BDO Chairman Des Jacklin

Wayne Warren, a 58-year-old roofer from Tynewydd, became the last winner of the BDO world title in January 2019, but when he received just £23,000 of the £100,000 first prize he was owed, he said he was holding on to the BDO World Championship trophy until he received the full sum.

In March last year, Jacklin resigned as BDO chairman, but events took a bizarre twist on 19 April when Jacklin was voted back on to the BDO board, and two days later he was reappointed chairman.

A month later Jacklin announced proposals to put the organisation’s commercial arm BDO Enterprises Ltd into liquidation with debts of £468,452, but on 15 July, neither Jacklin nor the other directors showed up to a meeting to formalise the liquidation process, without explanation.

In the recent Facebook post following his trip to Pontypridd police station, Jacklin said, ‘Oh yes folks, the BDO is very much alive!!!’ Des’.

Companies House online records posted two days before Jacklin’s Facebook post suggest otherwise. They reveal that on 10 February, BDO Enterprises Ltd was subject to a High Court winding up order.

Written by Marcus Stead

March 3, 2021 at 5:21 pm

Posted in Sport

YesCymru’s bigotry and antisemitism exposed

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CONTROVERSIAL group YesCymru, which campaigns for Welsh independence, recently welcomed The Canary editor-in-chief Kerry-Anne Mendoza into its ranks, despite her lengthy track record of making antisemitic comments on social media, which has led to her being condemned by both the Campaign Against Antisemitism and Wales Against Antisemitism.

In November, Mendoza was temporarily suspended from Twitter after she compared those attending the Jewish Labour Movement’s conference to ‘white supremacists’.

Prominent Welsh nationalist Sahar Al-Faifi was also welcomed into the organisation last autumn, seemingly indifferent her track record of antisemitic remarks.

The Twitter history of the organisation’s leader, Siôn Jobbins , also makes interesting reading. On 24 My 2018, he tweeted, “Black South Africans what [sic] to be Anglo American. They’ll have no language or own culture by 2050. Losers. They refuse to create modern, civic culture in their own languages. They define themselves by their skin colour. Their enemy isn’t Afrikaans, it’s themselves.”

Sion Jobbins
YesCymru leader Sion Jobbins has a track record of bigoted tweets

YesCymru claims to be committed to ‘civic nationalism’, though this has been brought into question.

During recent months, YesCymru supporters have engaged in increasingly bizarre behaviour, which includes putting postage stamps on letters upside down (including from its head office) as an act of protest against the monarchy, and defacing road signs with large, red, round YesCymru stickers.

YesCymru membership has become a fashion statement at BBC Wales, which the Labour and Conservative parties have regularly described as a hotbed of Welsh nationalism. Rhydian Bowen Phillips, a longstanding and outspoken member of YesCymru, is a presenter on Welsh language station BBC Radio Cymru. Eddie Butler, the BBC’s leading rugby union commentator, spoke at a YesCymru rally in Merthyr Tydfil in September 2019.

In recent months, other BBC Wales contributors who announced they’d joined the organisation include comedian Mike Bubbins, rugby reporter Phil Steele and broadcaster Carolyn Hitt, co-owner of Parasol Media, which makes numerous programmes for BBC Radio Wales along with quiz show Only Connect for BBC Two.

Written by Marcus Stead

March 3, 2021 at 5:18 pm

Posted in Cardiff, Politics

Wales Online ignores death of Welsh snooker legend

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REACH Plc’s clickbait factory Wales Online, which produces endless articles about Welsh ‘celebs’, rugby, the weather, and banal lists on such matters as places to eat Welsh food, has been shortlisted for a gong at the upcoming British Sports Journalism Awards, to be held virtually by the Sports Journalists Association on 15 March.

On 18 February, Katie Sands tweeted, “Thrilled to be part of the @WalesOnline sports team that’s been shortlisted for Digital Publisher of the Year in the British Sports Journalism Awards @SportSJA alongside the likes of Sky, The Athletic and CNN. Proud to work with such a creative, committed and talented bunch.”

The SJA appear to be setting the bar very low. Four days earlier, Welsh snooker legend Doug Mountjoy died at the age of 78. Mountjoy was one of snooker’s biggest names from the mid-1970s, throughout the boom years of the 1980s, and into the early 1990s. He reached the World Championship final in 1981, where he lost to Steve Davis, and won numerous major trophies, including two UK Championship titles, the second of which came in 1988 when he defeated Stephen Hendry in the final.

Doug Mountjoy

Mountjoy’s passing received extensive coverage in the British press, but there wasn’t even a mention of his death on Wales Online, despite him having lived in the country for almost all of his life.

A search reveals the last time Mountjoy’s name was even mentioned on the site was on 13 April 2014…as part of a list of ‘seven great finals involving Welshmen’.

Written by Marcus Stead

March 3, 2021 at 5:14 pm

Posted in Comment, Sport

New Welsh media outlets built on wobbly foundations

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MORE THAN 265 local newspapers have closed in Britain since 2005, but the last week has seen the launch of three new publications in Wales, albeit run on highly-questionable business models.

Newsquest, owned by American giant Gannett, has slashed staff and budgets across Britain in recent years, but on St David’s Day they launched a Welsh online equivalent of little-read Scottish title and SNP mouthpiece The National.

Gavin Thompson
The National Wales Editor Gavin Thompson

Editor Gavin Thompson said: “Our creation has its roots in the campaign by New Media Wales for a new national service for Wales. Their determination and hard work got us here and we continue to work in partnership.”

In reality, no such company as New Media Wales exists. It is a front for Huw Marshall, former head of digital at Welsh language broadcaster S4C, who is not a journalist, but does have an extensive background in harassing politicians and members of the public on social media.

Marshall pocketed £5,500 from an initial crowdfunding page, which he said allowed him to ‘dedicate a good chunk of time researching the market and developing a detailed business plan’.

But what of the money supporters pledged on Marshall’s ongoing Patreon fundraiser, which he originally claimed would fund the news service and still states they need a ‘minimum of 500 subscribers to launch’?

Marshall wrote: “Our ambitions are high, we want to create a Welsh alternative to Radio 4, TalkRadio, 5live and LBC and bring video discussions and debates to as wide an audience as possible.”

These ‘ambitions’ seem very lofty, considering Marshall has 284 individuals pledging a total of just £1,642 per month.

Newsquest’s reasoning for wanting to partner with Marshall to create a website that essentially pools content from existing company titles in Wales remains a mystery.

Rivals Reach Plc tried to gazump the launch the previous week by creating a separate Newport edition of the Western Mail, which had a Wales-wide circulation of just 8,419 in the second half of 2020, down from more than 30,000 in early 2010.

On 24 February, Pembrokeshire-based newspaper publisher Herald News UK announced it was bringing forward the launch of its Herald.Wales website, which happened two days later. Political editor Jon Coles said:  “We were a founding patron of New Media Wales with whom we were looking forward to working with to provide independent news online.

“When New Media Wales partnered with Newsquest, I was surprised and disappointed. Our plans had to change and so we brought our launch date forward.”

Herald publisher Thomas Sinclair is no stranger to controversy, having twice been fined and reprimanded for breaking court reporting restrictions.

In 2019 he came under fire from the National Union of Journalists after defying court orders over money owed to journalists and photographers.

The previous year, founding shareholder Erfan Felix Al-Talal was jailed for nine years over drugs and money laundering offences.

Written by Marcus Stead

March 3, 2021 at 5:11 pm

Posted in Business, Cardiff, Consumer