Tottenham must show their nasty side on date with destiny in Marseille | Tottenham Hotspur

As Tottenham prepare for a date with destiny – at the Stade Vélodrome against Marseille on Tuesday night – Antonio Conte cannot escape the feeling that it ought not to have come to this; his club’s qualification to the Champions League last-16 should already be secure.

It was – at their own stadium last Wednesday; then it was not. And the fallout to the VAR-driven decision to disallow what would have been a stoppage-time Harry Kane winner against Sporting Lisbon has changed everything; joy to foreboding with the click of one of those lines. Spurs now need a draw to go through. Lose and they would be pressed into the Europa League.

There is the detail of the red card that Conte was shown by the referee, Danny Makkelie, in the emotional aftermath of the Kane goal which was not – Conte was given it for encroaching onto the pitch and it means he will be banned from the dressing-room and touchline in Marseille. His last direct contact with the players will come on the bus to the stadium.

How will Conte communicate from his seat in the stands to the dug-out? By having his brother, Gianluca – a member of the coaching staff – beside him, who will then radio down. Uefa’s rules on indirect communication are not without their grey areas. If there are practical problems and the Marseille manager, Igor Tudor, said it would be better that Conte was inconvenienced, they are outweighed by the psychological ones.

The thing to stress is that the VAR got the Kane call right, however bizarre it felt and however much it appeared to show that hardly anyone actually knows the laws of the game these days. So Spurs simply have to suck it up and get on with it. It is not that simple, however, and what the flashpoint has done is to add another layer to the mental challenge that confronts Conte and his players.

It was interesting to follow the direction of Conte’s anger after the Sporting tie and, indeed, on Friday when he sat down to preview Saturday’s Premier League fixture at Bournemouth, which Spurs would win 3-2 having been 2-0 down – a significant boost. Conte does not believe that a bigger club would have seen a goal chalked off in similar circumstances, a club that play the angles harder, who apply greater pressure where he thinks it can matter. Conte did not mention Juventus, the giants of Italy where he spent the bulk of his playing career and also managed, but they were surely in his thoughts.

Antonio Conte arrives at the stadium during the club's buildup to the group decider
Antonio Conte’s team must avoid defeat in France to progress from their group. Photograph: Tottenham Hotspur FC/Getty Images

The mind went back to when Spurs were knocked out of the 2017-18 Champions League by Juventus in the last-16 and the then Spurs manager, Mauricio Pochettino, accused the Italians of pressurising the referee in the tunnel at half-time – players and senior executives equally on the case.

Pochettino said there were “two games against this type of club – one on the pitch, one outside it” and Juventus had given Spurs “a massive lesson in how to behave” in the latter. He added: “It was easy for the referee to manage us because we were very nice people.”

At Spurs, Conte has urged the hierarchy on more than one occasion to lean more heavily on those who put together the fixture schedule, while in the wake of the VAR drama against Sporting he told the chairman, Daniel Levy, and the managing director, Fabio Paratici, to speak to the authorities about recent decisions that have gone against them. “I understood that to be silent is not good,” Conte added.

The week before last, Conte had also ordered his players to be alive to the game’s darker arts and it all feeds into the need for Spurs to think and act like a big club, the perennial narrative about them having to harden their mentality.

The Vélodrome will have its Virage Nord closed after incidents involving the Marseille support against Eintracht Frankfurt in September but the atmosphere is sure to be hot and it is incumbent on Spurs to show their personality in possession, to be ruthless as a team and even “nasty” – to borrow the word that Conte has used. They must do so from the outset, rather than saving their aggression and a sense of abandon for when the result threatens to slip away, as they have done of late.

When did Spurs last impose themselves in the first half of a game? Not in any of their previous five, beginning with the matches against Everton, Manchester United and Newcastle. It is a worrying trend and one that Conte must rectify because Marseille will have a major bearing on how the season is viewed. The manager will have to make do without Cristian Romero, Dejan Kulusevski and Richarlison. The assistant coach, Cristian Stellini, reported that all three were still out with injuries.

Spurs have failed to perform to the required level in each of the past seven European away ties, going back to the 3-0 Europa League humbling against Dinamo Zagreb in March 2021. There were three losses and a draw in the Europa Conference League last season and so far in the Champions League it has been the last-gasp capitulation against Sporting and the stalemate with Eintracht.

“Every time we play a high-level team, we struggle,” Conte noted after the defeat at Manchester United two weeks ago. Marseille are not in that bracket, with Tudor keen to promote their “outsider” status. The stakes, though, could scarcely be more lofty.

Nicky Butt ‘delighted’ to replace Gary Neville as chief executive of Salford | Salford City

Nicky Butt is to take over from fellow co-owner Gary Neville as chief executive of Salford, the League Two club have announced.

Neville took on the role on a part-time basis after he and former Manchester United ‘Class of 92’ team-mates Butt, Phil Neville, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs purchased the club along with Singaporean businessman Peter Lim eight years ago.

Since the acquisition, the club have risen from the Northern Premier League First Division North – the eighth tier of English football – to reach the League ranks and former England and United team-mate David Beckham has joined them as an investor.

Neville, who has numerous other interests including a successful media career, is now stepping away from the day-to-day running of the club to allow Butt to take over as full-time CEO. Butt, 47, left his role as head of first-team development at United last year.

Neville said: “I have enjoyed my eight years and can’t believe how much we have achieved in that time, and how proud I am of the hard work everyone at the club has put in to make a dream we had whilst on a train turn into a reality.

“I will now be able to sit back and enjoy the game on match days safe in the knowledge that it is in good hands.”

Butt said: “I am delighted and welcome this opportunity, this pressure, this responsibility. I accept the responsibility of the long-term vision, whilst concentrating on the short-term goals and what is needed now, and will work hard to take the club to where we believe it can be.”

Hope Powell steps down as Brighton manager after 8-0 defeat by Spurs | Football

Hope Powell has stepped down as manager of Brighton Women after Sunday’s 8-0 home defeat by Tottenham. The former England Women manager joined the club in July 2017 and led them to their best Women’s Super League finish of sixth in 2021.

The hammering by Spurs left Brighton second-bottom with one win and four defeats from their opening five league games. Powell’s team had faced each of the top three – Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea – in the opening weeks.

“We’ve had a very challenging start to the new season with many changes to our squad and results not going as we had all hoped,” Powell said in farewell comments to the club’s website. “Sunday’s heavy loss at home to Tottenham was particularly disappointing.

“As a club, we’ve made a lot of progress in the past five years, but I feel now is the right time to step aside and allow a new coach to take the team forward with plenty of Super League football still to play this season.”

Brighton said Amy Merricks, the assistant manager, would take charge at West Ham on Sunday, supported by Alex Penny and Perry Northeast.

Michelle Walder, chair of the women’s and girls’ football club board, said: “Hope’s contribution to the development of women’s and girls’ football at our club, and for the women’s game in this country, cannot be underestimated.

“Hope has established Brighton & Hove Albion in the Women’s Super League, has overseen the opening of a new state-of-the-art women’s and girls’ teams training facility at our club, and has undoubtedly inspired further generations of young girls to play football. We wish her well for the future.”

Brighton also finished ninth twice and seventh last season under Powell, who managed England from 1998 to 2013.

Joey Barton cleared of assaulting wife after court hears she is ‘not a credible witness’ | Joey Barton

The Bristol Rovers manager, Joey Barton, has been cleared of assaulting his wife after a judge ruled that he could not receive a fair trial because prosecutors would not call the alleged victim to give evidence.

The former Premier League midfielder, 40, was accused of pushing Georgia Barton, 36, to the floor before kicking her during a row at their home in Kew, south-west London, on 2 June last year.

Georgia Barton, who is said to have been left with a golf-ball sized bruise on her forehead and a bleeding nose, was “audibly upset and shaken” when she dialled 999 just before 11.15pm, Wimbledon magistrates court heard.

“My husband has just hit me in the house,” she said, telling the operator she had been left with a “bloody nose” after Barton hit her “just in the face”. Officers were at the scene within 25 minutes.

Body-worn footage played in court captured Mrs Barton saying: “I was pushed and kicked about and stuff.”

The officer noted “a bit of a lump and some blood”. Speaking to a female officer, Mrs Barton said her husband “just flipped out” and “threw me down”.

“He was kicking me about,” she said, holding an ice pack to her head. She added that the alleged attack came “out of the blue”. “I just want him to be removed from the premises,” she said.

Prosecutor Daniel O’Donoghue said footage of Barton’s arrest shows he was “clearly intoxicated”.

Barton, who played for teams including Manchester City, Newcastle, Queen’s Park Rangers and Marseille, and who made one appearance for England in 2007, denied assault by beating.

His wife declined to make a written witness statement, but ahead of the expected trial in March wrote to the Crown Prosecution Service.

During earlier legal arguments, the court heard Mrs Barton had written a letter to prosecutors claiming that she and her husband had been drinking “about four or five bottles of wine each” with two other couples.

She said she wasn’t sure what she said to police was totally accurate and explained that her injury was caused accidentally when friends intervened in the argument.

Prosecutors said the account was an attempt to “exculpate” her husband and still chose not to interview her or call her to give evidence.

O’Donoghue said on Monday: “The prosecution maintain she would not be a credible witness and has put forward an exculpatory account in order to assist Mr Barton and undermine the comments made on the evening, which we say are very clear on the video.”

However, district judge Andrew Sweet said there were options available to the CPS to compel Mrs Barton to give evidence or treat her as a hostile witness.

“I am satisfied the position adopted by the crown not to take a statement or call Mrs Barton is at odds with the case law,” he said. “I am satisfied Mr Barton would be unable to achieve a fair trial in these circumstances and the proceedings are stayed.”

Barton, dressed in black, left court after he was discharged before leaving with his wife, who was wearing a pink trouser suit.

He started his management career with Fleetwood Town in 2018 and joined League One side Bristol Rovers last year.

Last December, Barton was cleared by a Sheffield crown court jury of pushing over the then Barnsley manager, Daniel Stendel, leaving him bloodied and with a broken tooth, after a League One match between Fleetwood and the South Yorkshire side at Oakwell on April 13 2019.

Why bucket hat-wearing fans’ days of supporting Wales might be numbered | Football


Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch Fiver is getting himself in a right old tizzy. With less than three weeks to go until the Human Rights World Cup kicks off, The Fiver’s bucket hat-wearing stereotypical Welsh cousin is devouring Pathé News re-runs of the last time his team qualified for the finals of Fifa’s global jamboree, going out in the quarter-finals of Sweden 1958. Having caused quite a seismic shock by making the knockout stages, Wales were without the great John Charles when they faced Brazil and went down by the most slender of margins, the first international goal ever scored by a young flash-in-the-pan named Pelé.

While Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch Fiver has high hopes that Gareth Bale, Kieffer Moore and chums may emulate or even better the feats of Ivor Allchurch, Terry Medwin and their teammates 74 years ago, his days supporting his country as most people know it could be numbered. The Football Association of Wales (FAW) is considering a patriotic rebrand and might rename the team Cymru – the Welsh name for Wales – after the World Cup.

Having long referred to their team by the C-word in their internal and external communications, the powers that be at FAW HQ have decided they might follow the lead of Türkiye in renaming themselves for future tournaments. “The team should always be called Cymru, that’s what we call it here,” said their head honcho Noel Mooney, an Irishman who is working towards fluency in Welsh. “Our view at the moment is that domestically we’re clearly called Cymru. That’s what we call our national teams. If you look at our website, how we talk about ourselves, we are very much Cymru.”

While any prospective change will not be undertaken without consultation with different stakeholders including but not limited to the Welsh Assembly and Uefa, it seems a natural next step for a national football team and fanbase that are currently having the time of their lives and have recently embraced Dafydd Iwan’s spine-tingling Welsh language folk song Yma O Hyd as their unofficial pre-match anthem. There would, of course, be other, alphabetical benefits when it comes to the Cymru delegation’s seating arrangements at the draws for major tournaments.

“We sit by the Ukrainians all the time and that’s nice because we’ve become good friends with them,” said Mooney. “But we would like to sit by the Croatians and the Czechs a bit more.” Of course they would also be sitting in close proximity to Belgium, whose midfielder Kevin De Bruyne will surely welcome the mooted name-change after stating last month that he is “bored” with constantly having to play Wales.


“Ever since I left France, you have nothing to talk about. France needs me, I don’t need France. Even if you have Mbappé, Neymar and Messi, it doesn’t help you because you don’t have God” – who else but Zlatan Ibrahimovic?

Zlatan Ibrahimovic getting his ultra on at the San Siro.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic getting his ultra on at the San Siro. Photograph: Spada/AP

Football Weekly is here! The podders chat about another rough weekend for Jürgen Klopp, Mikel Arteta’s high-flying Gunners and a 4-4 draw at the Valley.


“Arsenal are top of the table after 12 games. Erling Haaland does not score. Liverpool lose at home … to Leeds. Chelsea lose 4-1 to … Brighton. I can safely say that I do not understand football anymore. All that is left is for Qatar to win the HRWC” – Krishna Moorthy.

“Given the first instalment gave us a thrashing, a tactical mishap, blistering hot schadenfreude, a memorable quote and thus so many talking points, there is only one way to refer to the matchups of Graham Potter’s Chelsea and some bloke’s Brighton, from now on: El Guardianistico” – Jon Millard.

“Bravo! I wanted to echo fully the letter contents from Jason Palivoda (Friday’s letters) – actually with interest given the appalling skullduggery of even staging a winter World Cup – and I won’t be troubling the viewership statistics at all. A proper winter break lies ahead for some of us punters” – Mike Cornwell.

“Thanks for giving us a sight on Friday of what seems to be a large-scale ceramic representation of the World Cup mascot. It looks like an especially ugly giant ashtray with the boiled head of one of the Ninja Turtles attached, a combination all but defeats any attempt to find a useful allegory for it. I suppose we could go for what happens when you match up crass avarice with cynical manipulation, but that might be unfair to tobacco manufacturers and children’s toy-makers” – Charles Antaki.

Send your letters to And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … Charles Antaki.


Joey Barton has been cleared of assaulting his wife after a judge dismissed the case, ruling the Bristol Rovers manager could not receive a fair trial because prosecutors would not call the alleged victim to give evidence.

A Labour MP has called on the Premier League to help stamp out chants about the Hillsborough disaster, saying it has a “duty of care” to the survivors of the 1989 tragedy.

The England goalkeeper Hannah Hampton has been dropped by Sarina Wiegman because of her behaviour and attitude at training camps, reports Big Paper’s Suzanne Wrack. The Aston Villa keeper was also left out of her club’s game at Chelsea, watching from the stands after being told to stay at home.

Aston Villa and England goalkeeper Hannah Hampton.
Aston Villa and England goalkeeper Hannah Hampton. Photograph: Neville Williams/Aston Villa/Getty Images

Jürgen Klopp reckons his flagging Liverpool side aren’t a spent force just yet. “If you say ‘That’s it’ for this group of players or for this manager I don’t think that’s 100% fair,” he blabbed. “I think the judgement for this should come later on in the season.”

Bukayo Saka will undergo a midweek scan after going off early with a spot of leg-ouch as Arsenal stuffed Forest 5-0, but Mikel Arteta is optimistic the England winger will be fit in time for the Human Rights World Cup.

Reiss Nelson, who we had assumed was on loan in the Eredivisie or somewhere, came on for Saka and took his chance to shine with two goals. “It was amazing, like I was playing Fifa a bit,” said Nelson, who is clearly better at Fifa than The Fiver.

Marcus Rashford is not expecting to be bundled on to England’s flight to Qatar despite a fine return to form at Manchester United. “We’ve got two more league games before the World Cup, if we win those two games we’ll stay in [contention for] the top four, so that’s what I’m focused on,” he tooted.

And Luis Suárez scored twice to secure the Uruguayan title for Nacional, as they prevailed 4-1 in a playoff with … Liverpool [Fútbol Club, of Montevideo].


Hot: Jesse Marsch, Kieffer Moore. Not: Diego Costa, Marc Cucurella. More in this week’s 10 Premier League talking points.

Kieffer Moore, Jesse Marsch and Michail Antonio.
This composite pops. Composite: Getty/PA/Reuters

Our writers look back at the WSL weekend, including a spectacular solo late winner at Reading and Tottenham putting eight past Brighton.

Data analysis can help football teams but it is just one part of a picture that includes hard work, togetherness and a bit of luck, writes Grimsby chairman Jason Stockwood.

Will Unwin was at Old Trafford to see Lisandro Martínez continue to prove the doubters wrong with a peerless defensive display against West Ham.

Gabriel Jesus has gone seven games without scoring for Arsenal but he brings the Gunners so much more than goals, writes Jonathan Liew.

After a slow start, Lionel Messi is delivering for PSG and peaking just in time for the HRWC, reports Ligue Urrrn attaché Adam White.

Few teams can pull defeat from the jaws of victory like Atlético Madrid, but this week was bad even by their standards, reckons Sid Lowe.

Maurizio Sarri will have needed a relaxing snout or seven after making a mess of a key Lazio selection dilemma, coughs Nicky Bandini.

Could Union Berlin “do a Leicester” this season? Andy Brassell reports on the shock Bundesliga leaders’ latest dramatic late win.

And if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!


Lionel Messi is peaking at the right time for PSG and the World Cup | Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi’s first season in Ligue 1 would have been considered a success for most players. He scored 11 goals and provided 15 assists in 34 games for PSG, contributing directly to a goal every 110 minutes he was on the pitch. However, given his previous numbers – he had not dropped below one goal or assist per game since the 2006-07 season – it looked like the Argentinian was past his world-beating zenith. It turns out people have been too quick to write him off.

Messi’s form last season was affected by injuries, Covid and settling into new surroundings. His campaign was defined by his worst displays, rather than his best. His missed penalty and erratic display against Real Madrid in the last-16 stage of the Champions League stood out. He also struggled to adapt to Ligue 1, a pragmatic, physical league that is filled with teams who are well practised in deploying compact low-blocks.

As the season wore on, his influence grew as he moulded his style to fit his surroundings. Nevertheless, having won last year’s Ballon d’Or, Messi was still omitted from this year’s 30-man long list after making the top five every year since 2006. That was despite having a better goals and assists per 90 minutes ratio than Harry Kane, Cristiano Ronaldo, Phil Foden, Bernardo Silva, Sébastien Haller, Luis Díaz and Rafael Leão, all of whom play in similar positions yet made the list. Criticism of the decision to award Messi a somewhat generous seventh prize in 2021 may have had an impact.

Supporting Kylian Mbappé and Neymar, Messi became more of a deep-lying playmaker at PSG and he still led the league for assists per 90 minutes as well as progressive passes, through balls and passes into the area. However, despite scoring some crucial goals that carried PSG through a tricky Champions League group, he was far less decisive than he had been in Spain. French sports daily L’Équipe awarded him four or below in their match ratings on 10 occasions in Ligue 1 last season as Mauricio Pochettino’s stale PSG side eased to the title almost by default as a group of evenly matched chasing teams took too many points from each other for one challenger to emerge.

He performed better than some reports suggest, but he was passive, seemingly on autopilot, and the 2021-22 season goes down as a career low point. That decline, however, has been reversed since the summer. Messi has already scored more goals this season than he managed last term. He has contributed directly to 25 goals, a figure only Erling Haaland and Neymar can match in Europe’s top five leagues.

More importantly, his swagger has returned. Last season, the classic burst of pace and change of direction that Messi employs to beat defenders and break lines seemed to have disappeared. However, even at 35, his intensity and willingness to take on defenders has gloriously resurfaced this season.

Messi’s iconic deadweight passes that so often split defences and found teammates in crowded penalty boxes initially failed to travel with him to Ligue 1. This season has been different, though, with many of his 13 assists being perfectly timed through balls. As Maccabi Haifa found out in the Champions League last week during a 7-2 thrashing, his ability to manufacture an inch of space around the penalty area thanks to a shimmy or an exchange of passes before firing a bending snapshot into the net is also returning to devastating effect.

Perhaps most importantly, Messi’s emotions have resurfaced. Although famously low-key and shy off the pitch, the sullen demeanour and blank expression that persisted last season have been replaced by exchanges of broad smiles with celebrating teammates and a fire in his eyes, as shown by the way he celebrated after scoring a long-range thunderbolt in PSG’s 4-3 win over Troyes this weekend. Messi seems to be enjoying himself again. Reports suggest he has now settled in Paris and is enjoying life in France, with the possibility of a third, or even fourth, year at PSG already being discussed.

Messi clearly sees this is a pivotal season. He says the World Cup in Qatar next month will be his last and he has timed his peak perfectly. He has struggled with tiredness during previous tournaments at the end of long club campaigns but the early World Cup may suit him perfectly. Messi knows that a triumph for Argentina in Qatar would cement his place as perhaps the greatest player of all time. This may also be his last season playing alongside Mbappé and Neymar for PSG, giving him his best chance of winning another Champions League title, seven years after his last.

Despite exaggerated reports of his demise, Messi has proven his best may not be behind him just yet. With the chance of winning his first World Cup and PSG’s first Champions League on the horizon, this could be the season of his life.

Quick Guide

Ligue 1 results


Auxerre 1-0 Ajaccio

Brest 0-0 Reims

Monaco 2-0 Angers

Nantes 1-1 Clermont

Rennes 3-0 Montpellier

Lorient 1-2 Nice

Lyon 1-0 Lille

PSG 4-3 Troyes

Strasbourg 2-2 Marseille

Lens 3-0 Toulouse 

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Talking points

Kasper Schmeichel was outstanding for Nice as they beat Lorient.
Kasper Schmeichel was outstanding for Nice as they beat Lorient. Photograph: Catherine Steenkeste/Getty Images

Ligue 1’s surprise side of the season so far, Lorient, are now winless in three games after a 2-1 home defeat to struggling Nice. Having kept pace with PSG for much of the campaign, they have dropped to a still-remarkable fourth after 13 games. Dynamic rookie coach Régis Le Bris need not worry, however, as his team are still playing well. They tore Nice apart for the first hour, but failed to score a crucial second goal thanks to a string of sharp stops from Nice goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel. A moment of brilliance from Youcef Atal and a deflected effort from Gaëtan Laborde gave Nice a flattering win. Lorient were also unfortunate in their 2-2 draw at Troyes last week. They are here to stay.

Promoted Toulouse have become one of Ligue 1’s most exciting and progressive teams this season, led by the delightful passing of midfielder Branco van den Boomen, a number of quick and skilful forwards, and a smattering of young talent. However, Philippe Montanier’s team were beaten 3-0 by Lens on Friday night. Loïs Openda came off the bench and scored a hat-trick for Lens, who were dominant throughout. Franck Haise’s team are up to second in the table and a Champions League spot seems to be theirs for the taking.

Ligue 1 table

Premier League urged to tackle chants about Hillsborough that ‘shame’ football | Hillsborough disaster

A Labour MP has called on the Premier League to help stamp out chants about the Hillsborough disaster, saying it has a “duty of care” to the survivors of the 1989 tragedy.

Ian Byrne says chants about the disaster aimed at Liverpool fans have become “incessant” and are now a weekly occurrence, and urged the Premier League chief executive, Richard Masters, to meet him in a bid to tackle the problem.

A 2016 inquest found 96 Liverpool supporters were unlawfully killed amid a catalogue of failings by the emergency services at a 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough.

Since then, Andrew Devine, who died in July last year after suffering life-changing injuries in the disaster, has also been determined to have been unlawfully killed at an inquest.

Byrne also told Masters that Hillsborough survivors had been deeply affected by events in Paris earlier this year, when Reds fans were kept penned outside the Stade de France for hours in the buildup to the Champions League final.

The French authorities initially laid the blame for the chaotic scenes on Liverpool supporters, whom they said had brought large numbers of counterfeit tickets. However, a French Senate report published in July said Liverpool fans were unfairly blamed to “divert attention” from the failure of the organisers.

In a letter to Masters dated last Friday, Byrne wrote: “These chants and the people behind them shame the game. Since the events of the Uefa final in Paris we have seen many [Hillsborough] survivors triggered and struggling, tragically three survivors have taken their lives this year alone and two since Paris.

“The Premier League has a duty of care to these supporters and the incessant chanting that is now a weekly occurrence must be tackled at the root causes.”

Byrne has called on the Premier League to assist with the rollout of The Real Truth Legacy Project, an initiative he is leading which aims “to educate current and future generations about what really happened at the disaster, and about the subsequent cover-up and the long fight for justice”.

Byrne added: “I cannot stress the detrimental impact these chants are having on the families of the 97, the survivors and their families. Enough really is enough and we need actions now from the Premier League and all football clubs involved to ensure that this stops.”

The Premier League has acknowledged receipt of the letter.

Fischer laps up the ‘madness’ as Union Berlin’s Bundesliga heroics go on | Bundesliga

Many said it wouldn’t last for long, and it didn’t. They had enjoyed 48 days on top until being dethroned – obviously – by Bayern Munich on Saturday, the combined effect of the champions’ 6-2 shellacking of Mainz and of the weekend’s scheduling. This time Union Berlin had to go second and come from behind, but they were ready.

They were ready even in the seventh minute of stoppage time, when Danilho Doekhi applied the headed finish to a short corner routine to spark wild celebrations at the Alte Försterei and restore them to the top of the Bundesliga, just a day later and at the end of an afternoon on which it looked like pride would be maintained, but bigger dreams would be put into a more realistic framing.

Dreaming but fully conscious is Union’s state at present, with their greater savvy and awareness helping them sniff out yet another win in this extraordinary season. Borussia Mönchengladbach could have done with a dose of Urs Fischer’s smelling salts, perhaps. “You just have to be awake,” said Christoph Kramer of his team’s collective nod-off at that final set piece. Union had been second best in the first half and took their time to get going after the break as well but, as time went on, there was a growing feeling that Gladbach were struggling to hold back a rising tide. It looked as if they had been breached before in the closing minutes when Christopher Trimmel’s back-post header found the corner, but on VAR inspection it was ruled out for a narrow offside. Yet the hosts had another big moment up their sleeves.

“We had a good 70 or 80 minutes,” bemoaned Daniel Farke, the Gladbach manager, and he wasn’t totally exaggerating – but this is what Union do. They don’t need loads of territory to control a game situation. This is not just a club that is superbly managed off the pitch, but on it as well. Union’s intelligence and sangfroid is maybe even more impressive than the repeated emotional effort.

They had one of those nights on Thursday, inching to a home win against Braga to leave them within a match of reaching the knockout rounds of the Europa League, which would be their first post-Christmas European involvement. Less than 72 hours later here they were, same place, doing it all over again.

There were potential heroes as far as the eye could see – Doekhi, Kevin Behrens, who bravely headed in the equaliser and took a fist in the face from goalkeeper Tobias Sippel for his troubles, the crowd who as ever pushed their side beyond their limits – but this felt like a day for Fischer to get his dues. He called it perfectly, using his five substitutes well (“they all pushed the game forward,” he enthused), a delicious irony when you consider how many worried that expanding the scope for changes would favour the bigger clubs. Fischer dared to take off his excellent forward duo of Sheraldo Becker and Jordan Siebatcheu, who have done much to get Union this far, and was rewarded with one sub, Behrens, scoring and another, Jamie Leweling, assisting the winner.

Danilho Doekhi of Union Berlin celebrates after scoring the winner in the seventh minute of injury time.
Danilho Doekhi of Union Berlin celebrates after scoring the winner in the seventh minute of injury time. Photograph: Oliver Hardt/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection/Getty Images

None of them were the outstanding forward on the pitch; that was Marcus Thuram, who was a whisker away from scoring an unbelievable goal during Gladbach’s strong first period, backheeling the ball over goalkeeper Frederik Rønnow only to head it narrowly over when he picked it up on the other side. Yet the idea of capturing the Union magic is spreading. Oliver Ruhnert, Union’s director of football, was forced to respond to a rumour of Barcelona trying to sign Rani Khedira in January on Bild’s programme Lage der Liga. “We would be entering a whole new category if we are already able to transfer players to FC Barcelona,” he smiled.

It’s all about sensible management and planning, of course, but there’s still magic. “It’s madness,” gasped the normally poised Fischer at the end. Sometimes, even the protagonists are swept up in the moment.

Quick Guide

Bundesliga results


Köln 1-1 Hoffenheim, Schalke 0-2 Freiburg, Union Berlin 2-1 Borussia Mönchengladbach, Eintracht Frankfurt 1-2 Borussia Dortmund, Wolfsburg 4-0 VfL Bochum, VfB Stuttgart 2-1 Augsburg, Bayern Munich 6-2 Mainz, RB Leipzig 2-0 Bayer Leverkusen, Werder Bremen 1-0 Hertha Berlin

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Talking points

Another week, same Borussia Dortmund. They were second best for much of the late game on Saturday at Eintracht Frankfurt, were wobbling badly at 1-1 – and could easily have gone down to 10 men and conceded a penalty at that point had Sascha Stegemann, the referee, whistled for Karim Adeyemi’s push on Jesper Lindstrøm as he was about to shoot from close range – but were again saved by their dynamic duo. Jude Bellingham netted a wonderfully crafted winner early in the second half, the rest of which was mainly occupied by Gregor Kobel keeping the home side at bay. “We can rely on him 100%, but we would be happier if he had less to do,” Edin Terzic said about his goalkeeper with some degree of understatement.

We are still getting a handle on just how good (or not) Leipzig are, but we are at least clear on one thing. They always win at home under Marco Rose, and they racked up a seventh straight victory at Red Bull Arena under their newish coach against Leverkusen. Rose’s opposite number, Xabi Alonso, clearly has his hands full after another wan display. Leverkusen were not happy with the free-kick given against Piero Hincapié that led to Christopher Nkunku’s opener (“I still have serious doubts about [it],” said Alonso, “but this isn’t the time to cry about it”) but they didn’t create enough to threaten the hosts. “It is what it is,” admitted the Leverkusen midfielder Robert Andrich. “We are in a relegation battle.”

Our latest Anglo-German star is upon us – the younger Nmecha brother, Felix, made his first big impression on the Bundesliga stage with a double in Wolfsburg’s 4-0 win over Bochum, a game in which his elder brother Lukas (already a Germany international, of course) also started. The pair were born in Hamburg and brought up in Wythenshawe, playing in Manchester City’s academy, before leaving for Lower Saxony. “He has improved physically,” enthused Niko Kovac, who credits settling Felix into a midfield position – after trying him in a number of different spots – for his good form.

Omar Marmoush (left) and Felix Nmecha (right) of Wolfsburg celebrate after the 4-0 win over Bochum.
Omar Marmoush (left) and Felix Nmecha (right) of Wolfsburg celebrate after the 4-0 win over Bochum. Photograph: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Stuttgart go from strength to strength under Michael Wimmer, given the caretaker-coach role after Pellegrino Matarazzo’s dismissal until the winter break at least. He got his third win in four games thanks to a late, late victory over Augsburg – provoking memories of last season’s final day great escape with Waldemar Anton’s winner (at the end of a sensational move the right-back started and finished) in front of the Cannstatter Kurve.

Werder Bremen ended a run of two straight defeats thanks to a more familiar goalscorer, with Niclas Füllkrug’s beast of a header five minutes from the end finishing off Hertha in a dour game and keeping him joint top of the Bundesliga goalscoring charts.

Hats off, too, to Köln, who were forced to play with little rest after Thursday’s Europa Conference League game at Slovacko was fogged off and the rest of it had to be played on Friday. After their attempts to postpone were rebuffed they held Hoffenheim to a 1-1 draw, which left Steffen Baumgart more than satisfied – his team ran over 122km in the match. “They fought against all odds,” Baumgart said.

Sarri full of rage and remorse after Milinkovic-Savic ‘mess’ costs Lazio | Serie A

Maurizio Sarri had wrestled all week with the question of whether to start Sergej Milinkovic-Savic against Salernitana. His Lazio team were soaring, up to third in Serie A and boasting the best defensive record in the division. A 2-0 win over the previously undefeated Atalanta, richly deserved despite the absence of top scorer Ciro Immobile, had put the manager back in the spotlight, the national media celebrating a rebirth of “Sarrismo” – Sarri-ism, often translated as Sarri-ball.

The manager was unaffected. In one interview he defended his enduring preference for wearing tracksuits, describing it as “the most natural thing in the world” to dress appropriately for your workplace and ridiculing under-19 coaches who wore jackets and trousers. In another he was asked to define Sarrismo. “I wouldn’t know what to call it,” he said. “Maybe my wife is the one who knows best how to define me: a grumpy man and a bit of a dickhead.”

Perhaps so, but Sarri was showing himself once again to be an extremely effective manager. A Lazio side which conceded 58 goals last season and lost starting centre-back Francesco Acerbi to Internazionale late in the summer transfer window now boasted the tightest defence in Serie A. The aggregate score for their last six league games was 16-0.

Sunday’s match against Salernitana, however, presented a conundrum. Milinkovic-Savic had been booked in the final moments of the win over Atalanta, meaning he was now just one yellow card from a suspension. The next game after this one was the derby against Roma.

Sarri: “Sometimes I go to watch U19 games on shocking pitches and I burst out laughing when I see coaches in club suits. We work on the pitch, so I wear a tracksuit. When I worked in finance I’d turn up suited and booted. Wearing a tracksuit seems perfectly normal to me”

— Patrick Kendrick (@patrickendrick) October 30, 2022

To play without Milinkovic-Savic would be a big risk. Immobile was still out with a hamstring injury. Could Lazio afford to face a competitive Salernitana side without two of their most important players? Sarri decided they must. He weighed not only the booking but also fatigue. Milinkovic-Savic, who had started every domestic game so far, played a full 90 minutes against FC Midtjylland in the Europa League on Thursday night.

By half-time it looked as though the gamble was paying off. Sarri swapped his usual 4-3-3 for a 4-4-2 with Pedro and Mattia Zaccagni playing as a tandem of false nines. After a cautious opening, Lazio gradually started to take control of the game, with the first of those two players hitting the post shortly before the second put them in front in the 41st minute.

The Biancocelesti ought to have doubled their lead after the interval when Felipe Anderson headed the ball down for Matías Vecino, who failed to beat the keeper from point-blank range. Instead, they were pegged back in the 50th minute by a beautifully taken goal from their former player, Antonio Candreva.

It was a move straight off the training ground. Salernitana’s manager, Davide Nicola, had moved Candreva in from his usual spot at wing-back in a 3-5-2 to play on the right-hand side of the midfield three instead. From there he found the space between Lazio’s defenders, receiving a floated pass from his outside replacement, Pasquale Mazzocchi, taming it with one touch and chipping the keeper with the next. “We did what we prepared during the week,” said Nicola afterwards. “The goal that Candreva scored on Mazzocchi’s ball forward was a solution we tried on Friday in practice.”

This was the first league goal Lazio had conceded in more than 600 minutes, and they did not respond well. Sarri summoned Milinkovic-Savic from the bench to fix things. Yet the Serbian was powerless to stop a former Roma player, Federico Fazio, from scoring at the back post a few minutes later after Lazio failed to clear a cross.

Worse was yet to come. In the 72nd minute, Milinkovic-Savic was attacking the Salernitana box with the ball when Dylan Bronn stepped out to challenge him. The Lazio player offloaded possession at the last second before they collided. Milinkovic-Savic’s boot landed on top of Bronn’s. On slow-motion replays it looked painful, but in real-time it was hard to see what else the Lazio player was supposed to do. He had full possession before Bronn lunged in. The Salernitana player was a fraction late and never touched the ball but happened to place his boot right where his opponent’s studs were headed.

Milinkovic-Savic shrugs in frustration
Milinkovic-Savic struggles to comprehend his booking. Photograph: Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

The referee, Gianluca Manganiello, had no hesitation in showing Milinkovic-Savic a yellow card. Lazio’s players, aware of the consequences for next week’s derby, immediately went to pieces. Amid furious protests they allowed Salernitana to score again, Domagoj Bradaric picking out Boulaye Dia for a close-range finish despite their being three Lazio defenders and nobody else to threaten them inside the box.

By full-time of a 3-1 defeat, Sarri was a blend of rage and remorse. He claimed not to have seen a decision like the one against Milinkovic-Savic in half a century of involvement in football and hinted at dark conspiracies, pointing out that the same referee had booked Zaccagni, leading to a suspension, right before Lazio played Roma this March. Sarri asserted that: “If I say what I think about the referee they will ban me for six months.”

Yet he also suggested it had been a mistake not simply to field Milinkovic-Savic from the start. Points won against Salernitana would have counted just as much for the standings as any taken off Roma. “When you want to try to manage these situations [with suspensions] you always end up with a mess,” he said. “I’ve rarely made choices of this sort, but the derby gets into your head a bit. Thinking back, I would act differently.”

Absolutely sublime 💫

Salernitana have been unlocked by a beautiful through ball by Luis Alberto that has the Stadio Olympico on their feet 👏

Wonderful pass!

— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) October 30, 2022

The other side of this setback for Lazio, however, was a famous win for Salernitana. Last December they stood on the verge of being tossed out of the league because their then owner, Claudio Lotito, also happens to own Lazio. He had gained one exemption after another to maintain control of both clubs but eventually ran out of rope.

His relationship with Salernitana is complicated. He rescued them from bankruptcy in 2011 and brought them all the way up from Serie D to the top flight in the decade that followed. Yet Lotito was accused of dumping unsuccessful Lazio players into the club and disrespecting its history.

Quick Guide

Serie A results


Torino 2-1 Milan, Lazio 1-3 Salernitana, Spezia 1-2 Fiorentina, Cremonese 0-0 Udinese, Empoli 0-2 Atalanta, Internazionale 3-0 Sampdoria, Lecce 0-1 Juventus, Napoli 4-0 Sassuolo

Monday: Verona v Roma, Monza v Bologna

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One particular phrase has never been forgotten, Lotito responding to critics by asserting that the Salernitana would be “playing in Serie Z if it wasn’t for me, without so much as a rocking horse”. It was a riff on the seahorse which adorns the club’s badge. Little wonder that local newspaper La Città should run with a front-page headline on Monday celebrating “revenge” over their former owner.

Nicola will be less interested in any such discussions than the steady improvement of the side he rescued from relegation last season. This was a third win in four matches for Salernitana, lifting them into the top half of the table.

The sight of Franck Ribéry, recently retired from playing and now a part of his coaching staff, enthusiastically dispensing instructions from the sidelines as Lazio fell apart felt like another sign of this club’s growing ambition. Sarrismo, despite Sunday’s setback, remains a force to be reckoned with in Italian football. But could the unlikely alliance of a Champions League winner and Serie A’s great escape artist produce further surprises down on the Amalfi coast?

‘We are Cymru’: Wales football teams could change name after World Cup | Wales

Wales football teams could be named Cymru on the international stage in future, with the Football Association of Wales (FAW) considering a change after the World Cup.

Cymru – the Welsh name for Wales – is already used by the FAW in its internal and external communications and by staff at the governing body’s headquarters. The FAW chief executive, Noel Mooney, has said they may follow Turkey in asking to be renamed for international tournaments.

“The team should always be called Cymru, that’s what we call it here,” said the FAW . “Our view at the moment is that domestically we’re clearly called Cymru. That’s what we call our national teams. If you look at our website, how we talk about ourselves, we are very much Cymru.

The FAW will speak to various stakeholders in Welsh football about the merits of changing the country’s name in European and global competition, and have already held informal discussions with Uefa on the subject.

“Internationally we feel we have a bit more work to do yet, so we are going to this World Cup [Qatar 2022] as Wales,” Mooney added. “But I think 2023 will be a year when we have a good discussion with all the different stakeholders – governments, our own boards, councils and decision-making bodies, staff, club and players.

“We’re a very open democratic organisation and we don’t just unilaterally decide today to do something like that. I would say it’s the direction of travel, but there’s no firm decisions on it. It’s more almost by osmosis that we’re heading towards it.”

The issue of an official name change for Wales was brought into focus earlier this month when Robert Page’s side were drawn in the same Euro 2024 qualifying group as Turkey, who now compete internationally as Türkiye. The change came after the Ankara government called for the country to be known globally by its Turkish name.

Mooney said: “You’ve seen countries like Azerbaijan, Turkey and others use their own language. They’re quite strong on it and we spoke to the Turkish at the Euro 2024 draw about it. We’ve also had unofficial discussions with Uefa over coffees at different events. Asking how Turkey did this, how other countries did that.

“We’ve asked what their direction of travel is. For example, is there a movement towards people using their indigenous language? What I do know is there’s a renaissance of the Welsh language and a sense of great pride in what we do with the culture and the heritage.”

Changing to Cymru would also move Wales away from the bottom of Uefa’s alphabetical list of nations at draws and meetings. “We sit by the Ukrainians all the time and that’s nice because we’ve become good friends with them,” Mooney joked. “But we would like to sit by the Croatians and the Czechs a bit more.”

Mooney, the former head of strategic development at Uefa, took over as the FAW chief executive in July 2021. The Irishman is currently learning Welsh and has set himself the target of holding a Q&A session at the National Eisteddfod next summer.