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A Silva lining

Etihad Stadium
The Etihad Stadium in 2015.

The word “legend” is often used to describe football players. Too much, perhaps? However, for David Silva, I think it’s apt. It’s the midfielder’s last Premier League game in a Manchester City shirt this afternoon, against Norwich.

The Spaniard is one of the players from the 2011-2012 squad that won the Premier League title for City, 44 years since the club was last victorious. After today, Sergio Aguero is the only other player who remains. The likes of Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta and Yaya Touré have all said their goodbyes over the years.

David Silva joined the club for a £24 million pound transfer fee from Valencia in 2010, then playing under manager Roberto Mancini. Known as “Merlin”, The Magician” or “El Mago” for his prowess on the ball, Silva will be remembered for bringing his Spanish flair to the Premier League. The kind that saw his national team win Euro championships in recent years, as well as the 2010 World Cup. With technical ability and a left foot that’s seen him become a key playmaker for the Blues, who doesn’t shy away from goal himself. Silva is a joy to watch play when on the road or at the Etihad Stadium.

The game there today sees the completion of this year’s Premier League season against visitors Norwich, a club that’s already been confirmed as relegated to the EFL Championship next season. Today’s match is taking place much later than originally scheduled, due to the break in play because of the coronavirus pandemic. That also means there will be no fans in the stadium to bid this season’s captain adiós, in his final game wearing a sky blue shirt.

Which leads me onto the ‘silver lining’: A player’s time at any club will always come to a close and David Silva is ending his on a high. In his 10 years with Manchester City, the number 21 has been a key part of squads who have massively enhanced the team’s trophy cabinet, with four Premier League titles, two FA cups and five League Cups to his name. A role model to many, with Man City’s academy graduate Phil Foden a potential candidate to take on Silva’s position in midfield next season. And there’s still the matter of this year’s Champion’s League to be decided too.

While David Silva’s next move is yet to be announced, there’s no doubt that, domestically, the 34-year-old has done it all and done it in style. He’s left his mark on Manchester City, as well as the top tier of English football. Thanks for the memories, El Mago.

Dealing with breaking news

This week the front and back pages of newspapers have been filled with news of Liverpool Football Club being crowned Premier League champions. However, in what seems like an eternity ago – but was actually just a week beforehand – I was getting some other sport breaking news to air. In what is a big story in my patch of Cumbria, Barrow AFC were promoted to the English Football League for the first time in 48 years.

Many followers of current affairs will be familiar with “breaking news” as a banner on news channels or smartphone push notifications to describe anything new or developments to an existing story. That’s one take which somewhat dilutes the term, I think. The kind I’ll be discussing in this blog post is the sort that, as a radio producer, makes you completely rethink a programme and turn items in a running order around.

Breaking news is the bread and butter of journalism; it’s something to be enthusiastic about, rather than panic. These are often times when we produce some of the audience’s most memorable moments of our output. Often, but not always, it will happen at unexpected moments – at the end of a shift, when you have made plans after work, for example. The news of Barrow’s promotion certainly wasn’t unexpected but happened right at the end of my shift.

Due to the nature of breakfast programmes on BBC local radio, which are broadcast from very early in the morning, there’s an afternoon producer who takes over looking after the programme from the morning producer when their shift finishes. The role includes reacting to the day’s developments as well as setting up content throughout the afternoon and into the evening. The role of ‘late prod’ is on a rota for the news team at BBC Radio Cumbria and I’ve been doing my most recent stint for the last month, while working from home.

It was 19:00 on Thursday, 18 June. I’d just subscribed to a Sky Sports day pass so I could watch my team, Manchester City, play their first game after the season break, due to the coronavirus pandemic. I’d finished setting up the next morning’s breakfast programme and was out of the loop while I’d sat down to have tea. The call from a colleague followed to inform me the announcement had been made – Barrow has been promoted.

It was not a surprise; due to the nature of this year, the non-league season wasn’t able to be completed. Therefore, the final standings were decided by a vote of all clubs in the league. When the season was suspended, Barrow were top of the league and became champions. Ironically, 48 years earlier the team had actually been voted out of the English Football League, as was the protocol at the time. The Bluebirds hadn’t even finished bottom of the league that season either. It’s reported the decision was made due to where the town is located and how long it could take some away teams to travel to the Holker Street ground.

I logged back onto the computer in my home office, that I had only five minutes earlier shut down, and began moving items around the running order. Previously, a plan had been devised on how the breakfast programme the day after any possible promotion should sound. It was a case of implementing that and ringing round some guests that had already been set up to ask if they wouldn’t mind being put on hold. All were very understanding of the circumstances.

A lot of liaising was done with my colleagues in the south of the county to set up certain pieces and deliver kit to the commentator, so he could appear live outside the Holker Street ground in the morning. Then guests that had been set up in advance had to be confirmed. Once all that was in place, I allowed myself a 45 minute break to at least be able to watch the second half of the football match that I had initially intended to. After that, I finished writing cues and drafting questions. The whole four-hour programme had to be re-worked and I finished putting everything in place in the early hours of the morning.

The advantage of working from home is that at least I didn’t have a commute to contend with after I’d finished and just went straight to bed. It’s part of the job to be flexible and hearing the programme go out live the next day makes it all worthwhile – the jubilation in the fans’ voices and the elation of those who work at the club. It’s always nice to play a part in such a celebratory programme. I believe it showcases the importance and value of local radio to be at the heart of communities like that, reflecting what matters to the people who live there. It wasn’t the first time I’d dealt with breaking news during my career and it, almost certainly, won’t be the last.

Manchester City: My life as a Blue

With Bury FC’s expulsion from the English football league recently, it’s prompted a lot of fans to reflect and never to take for granted what a club means to them. The passion and the pride in a team is something quite special and I have so much empathy for what Bury fans must be going through. As a Greater Manchester team, I’ve known many of their supporters down the years who are a great, loyal, bunch.

Supporting a team sometimes isn’t just down to choice; it’s steeped in family history and local heritage. At least, it is for me and my team – Manchester City, who are the current Premier League champions et al. But fortunes haven’t always been so kind – and that’s all part of a fan’s journey and makes the victories even sweeter.

It’s also 20 years this year since one of the best football matches I can remember: Gillingham Vs Manchester City at Wembley in the Division Two play-off final. The match that cemented my place as a City supporter.

The atmosphere was electric; although City’s season was in a tier much lower than what fans are used to these days, the support has never weaned. I was part of the ‘Blue Army’ that had made the journey from Manchester to London where the twin towers of the old Wembley Stadium were beckoning.

I was 10-years-old and had travelled down with my Mum and Dad. Supporting City is very much in my family. It’s all I’ve ever known and had been going to matches since I was young and back then was a member of the ‘Junior Blues’ and the former Levenshulme branch of City supporters’ clubs.

Football is a big part of growing up in Greater Manchester and the reality is I’ve never wanted to support any other team – even if I did used to tease Dad by holding up United shirts in sports shops!

Everyone in primary school knew which team I supported because kids could bring in their own PE kit and mine was an old City shirt. It was just accepted, there wasn’t much bullying then, only banter.

High School was more brutal. Looking back it probably wasn’t a good idea to start off the new school year showing my footballing allegiances in the only way possible: by having it plastered all over my bag. A teacher took me to one side on the first day and warned: “This is a United school”. It wasn’t long after that my rucksack ended up being kicked down the corridors and having the contents sprawled all over the playground. It wasn’t quite like the scene from the film There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble, but close enough.

It might not have seemed like it then but, when among fellow fans, there’s a great sense of belonging that has continued to this day, whether it’s at Maine Road, the Etihad stadium or having a banter with mates… especially United fans!

In 2012, City won the Premier League title for the first time in 44 years and the game was on a knife edge in a race against rivals Manchester United – it all came down to the last game of the season in extra time. I’ve never felt such a mix of emotions when Mario Balotelli passed to Sergio Aguero. It went in. The goal stood. First tension then jubilation – after all those years in the lower leagues, we were Premier League champions! The success continues to this day and I still have to pinch myself that it’s all really happening.

Some people think that if you support Manchester City then you must be a glory hunter – oh, the irony! One question I get asked most in regards to this is “how long have you supported City for?” The answer is all my life. But if there was any doubt, the date that sealed it was 30th of May 1999, the year city won at Wembley.

Long may the good fortunes continue but even if it doesn’t I, like all the football fans I know, would still support our team through thick and thin. That’s my life as a Blue.

Hear the Lionesses roar!

I’ve loved football for as long as I can remember but there’s something about this World Cup making it extra special. It’s seeing fellow females competing in the sport at the highest level and given priority in broadcast schedules. It’s as simple as that – but long overdue.

The games have been of a superb standard and seen by more people than ever before, with a record for the match between England v Norway of 7.6 million viewers. It was even shown on big screens at Glastonbury Festival, thanks to this tweet from forward, Georgia Stanway:

Women’s football is nothing new. One of the first teams in association football were Preston’s Dick, Kerr Ladies, that was founded in 1917 and in existence for more than 48 years. However, a ban in 1921 by the Football Association prevented the women’s game being played at its members grounds.

Retrospectively, players from that pioneering era are now starting to be given the recognition they deserve; a statue of Dick, Kerr player Lily Parr was unveiled in May at Manchester’s National Football Museum. The first female player to be honoured with a statue anywhere in the country.

Trailblazing in those footsteps have been many, but arguably at a time when there was less attention on the women’s game. The England team of 2019 are currently in the spotlight and manager Phil Neville told BBC Sport about the legacy his team want to create:

“We had a camp last year and we set out the objectives for the next 12 months… all I wanted them to say was ‘win the World Cup’.

“But they were thinking bigger than winning a World Cup, which knocked me in my stride a little bit.

“We want the Lionesses to have a name that people around the world can relate to… badass women. That was our mantra.”

Now games have been broadcast on BBC One, rather than tucked away on another channel or shown via the Red Button, it subtly helps to normalise the women’s game and makes it available to as many people as possible.

The consequence of this should not be underplayed: inspiration. Young people watching may want to follow in the Lionesses ‘ footsteps and become footballers themselves. It also shows young girls quite clearly that you can do this too. In 2019 Britain, gender shouldn’t be a barrier for anyone who wants to pursue their dreams.

There’s still more to do in this respect. The previous team England played was Norway, in that country there’s parity of pay for players of the women’s and men’s game. For equality to be achieved between both genders then pay must play a part.

It’s also quite acceptable for women’s teams to be managed by men but not vice versa. However, as seen by the calibre of play in this World Cup, I could see members of this England team: Lucy Bronze, Steph Houghton, Ellen White et al managing a male team in years to come.

That would be fantastic. I hope that if / when it happens the overriding view of society sees it that way too. I grew up with boys telling me I knew nothing about football – just because I was a girl. How wrong they were! I trust those archaic sexist attitudes, particularly in school playgrounds, are starting to change for the better. What England are doing, as well as having broadcasters on board for this World Cup, is surely helping.

I didn’t think I could love football more but seeing the Lionesses in action, smashing stereotypes along the way, I couldn’t be prouder to support their campaign both on and off the pitch.

The next step is to face tournament favourites USA in the semi-final. Come on England!