Far from a Love Story: A blog about Taylor Swift, Spotify and the current state of the music industry.

She was the best one.

She was the best one.

I’ve decided to branch out a bit for this one. I Almost Do* all my blogs about football and I fancied a change. So this one is about music – And don’t worry it’s not 1500 words on why Victoria Beckham was the best Spice Girl, for those of you already familiar with my (some say appalling, I say wonderful) taste in music.

Anyway, this is about Taylor Swift and the beef she’s got with Spotify.

If you don’t know Taylor Swift, that country-turned-pop singer, made famous in the UK for her song about how Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet would have concluded if it were written by Disney, and for a goat’s very accurate impression of her, has banned top music streaming site Spotify from uploading not only her new album ‘1989’ (yes that was the year she was born) but also her entire back catalogue.

Below is her latest single (which is not on Spotify).


Taylor claims that music is art and art is valuable and valuable things should be paid for, hence why she’s not allowed Spotify to upload the new album, and why she’s removed the rest of her music from the site. And to a great extent she is right. Music is art and it should be paid for – but many people do pay for the privilege of Spotify (Premium) and she does, well would, actually get a cut of that.

For readers of a certain age, this isa cassette. This is how some of us once listened to music

For readers of a certain age, this is a cassette. This is how some of us once listened to music.

A massive music fan myself, I use Spotify but It’s not my sole or main source of music. If I’m honest I preferred the music industry when I was a kid, before YouTube, before iTunes and before Spotify, where I’d have to watch The Box or MTV (When MTV was actually music orientated and not the Geordie Shore, 16 and Pregnant-filled nonsense it is today) all day in the hope I’d see my new favourite song/video, and wait until the release date to finally listen to a song/album at my own leisure and it be a physical, tangible CD or going back even further, cassette tape.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that I can now access almost any song I want and purchase/stream it at my heart’s content, I mean, think of the number of Charity Shops I’d have had to have traipsed through to find Adam Rickitt’s ‘I Breathe Again’ on CD Single if I hadn’t downloaded it off iTunes… But ultimately downloading and now streaming is killing the music industry.

Taylor’s not the only one suffering from poorer music sales. Singles these days have to be brand spanking new to stand any chance of chart success, for as soon as an album is released, you can buy that song any time you like, much earlier than the ‘official release date’ which is now pretty much pointless for these songs. Back in the day You’d either have to pay the tenner for the album or wait until the single was released on CD if it was just that you wanted.

I’m a traditionalist. Whilst I’ve spent well over £100 in the last year or so on iTunes, I have never bought a full album via download. I prefer the physical copy (which I can transfer to iTunes myself anyway). I like to look at the photos, lyrics and thank yous in the booklet as I’m listening to the album, and while physical albums are available to purchase I will continue doing so, even if it is cheaper to download them.

So, if I want to buy Taylor Swift’s ‘1989’ I’d pop to HMV and get it. It’s upsetting that some great songs/albums don’t get the sales/chart recognition they deserve because of the recent advances in technology, but that’s how it goes. And in all fairness, whilst the internet has it’s downsides in the music industry, it has a lot of positives too.

Nearly 20 million people watched Nicki Minaj do this in the 'Anaconda' video just one day.

Nearly 20 million people watched Nicki Minaj do this in the ‘Anaconda’ video in just one day.

Think of the acts signed up because thanks to recognition of their ‘art’ uploaded to YouTube. In fact three ‘YouTube stars’ even appeared on the new Band Aid single, which speaks volumes. Uploading music videos to the site as opposed to having to wait/request them on music channels again generates more interest and more sales. Would 19.6 million people in the space of just 24 hours have been able to see Nicki Minaj twerking in every position known to man ten years ago?

Not to mention, could Beyoncé have Beyoncéd her album ‘Beyoncé’ ten years ago and it have anywhere near the success it has done? Nope.

But yeah there are issues with the music industry these days and I can understand it causing some concern to Ms Swift. On the contrary, I can’t help but feel in this situation her issue with Spotify is just her being greedy.

I am a Taylor Swift fan, more so recently when lead single from the new album ‘Shake It Off’ dropped. Having heard and paid for That. Sick. Beat. I was looking forward to hearing the rest of the record, as were many other people, but was left disappointed when I found out I couldn’t get hold of it on Spotify. I like to try before I buy and I’m not prepared, in this day and age, to spend my money on an album I’ve yet to hear, unless it’s by one of my absolute favourite artists, and I’m sorry Tay, but you’re not one of mine (yet).

The record breaking album that we can't listen to on Spotify.

The record breaking album that we can’t listen to on Spotify.

Taylor wanted Swift record sales, and she got them as people did go out and buy, or stay in and download, her album, making ‘1989’ number one in both America and the UK, having sold 1.28 million copies, giving her the highest first week sales since 2002. She knows she’s not the Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo of the game that is the (female) music industry so she’s employed that tactic and it paid off for her, but at some price.

I’ve still not heard the album in full, somewhat hypocritical of me having uploaded a photo of my own recreation of the cover, and whilst I love what I’ve heard so far and having heard rave reviews of the album, I don’t like the idea that I have to pay for the whole thing in case the 10+ tracks I haven’t heard are shit.

My friend Bally, one of the most dedicated music fans I know (He’s been to see Beyoncé about 163 times in the last year, both here and abroad (and she isn’t cheap)), agrees that Taylor’s mugging folk off for these sales records when actually she’s doing more harm than good.

I won’t quote Bally (because he aired his views via Snapchat which is not the most ideal method of interview if I’m quite honest with you) but he won’t mind me giving you the gist of what he said. He feels that artists like Taylor who do want to maximise first week sales have every right to, but feels after that the records should be made available to stream.

We mustn’t forget that since July of this year Spotify and other streaming websites (there are other streaming websites?!) actually contribute to chart position in the UK, but Bally thinks that only after the first two or three weeks of an album being released, where it gets the majority of its sales, it should go on to Spotify, and I can’t help but agree that that’s the fairest way around it.

People are missing out. I know if I heard the album in full and I liked it enough, I’d go out and buy it. I’m sure my friend would too, and he’s a Spotify Premium user who pays a monthy fee to access music. True music fans will pay for what they feel is worth paying for, for the hard work and creativity they put into their ‘art’ but by denying people a chance to listen to her music legally, the truth is Taylor Swift is inviting people to do so illegally.

This is the Spotify logo in case people didn't know.

This is the Spotify logo in case people didn’t know.

It’s so very easy to illegally download music so Taylor shouldn’t really piss her fans and Spotify off by denying them. I know All Too Well* that Spotify might not bring in as much money, but more people will listen to her music, she’ll gain more fans as a result and ultimately as Spotify is legal, she’d be a damn sight better off than if people illegally downloaded her stuff, which I might have to do if she doesn’t book her ideas up.

I’m on her side to some extent but Everything Has Changed* in the music industry in recent years and if I had to pay for every song, sorry, three minute pieces of art I’ve ever enjoyed there’d be a considerably large Blank Space* in my music collection. So if the ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ singer could retract that statement this once and become BFFs with Spotify again that would be quite nice thank you.

Let’s add a poll.

*These are really poor puns based on Taylor Swift song titles.

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I’m sorry if any of this makes little sense, I just wanted to talk about it.

I suffer with depression. Last night I broke down quite badly. Hours later it was announced that legendary actor and funnyman Robin Williams had died. He had killed himself and he too suffered with depression.

I am a journalism graduate, and for the first time in months, maybe in a year, I’m writing something that isn’t forced. Something that I’ve not had to write. For the first time in so long, may it be only for a very short time, I’ve got that passion back. It’s a shame it’s taken the events of the last 24 hours for this to happen.

I’m not quite sure why I’m writing this. To speak out? Maybe even cry for help? I don’t really know. I want to help others and and voice my opinions on such a raw subject, and I guess let you in on what I’m going through, if I can explain it at all well enough. Forgive me if any of this makes little sense, my head’s been all over the place lately.

Last night the deepest of tragedies left the world talking about mental health.

“How can someone with all that money, all that success be depressed?”

“How can someone be so good at making everyone else happy yet be incapable of finding happiness for himself?”

“How could he be so selfish to commit suicide?”

These are some of the things people have asked. Uneducated people perhaps. I don’t want to be too hard on them, because I guess if they don’t get it then they’ve not had mental illness trouble them in life, and they’re so lucky for it. Allow me to try and answer a few of those questions.

Depression doesn’t care if you’re old or young, fat or thin, black or white, gay or straight, rich or poor, successful or otherwise. if it’s going to get you, it will. It’s a vicious illness, one that affects so many of us. In the UK alone one in four of us will experience some kind of mental health problem within the course of a year, while there are approximately 450,000,000 mental health sufferers worldwide.

You’ll only know if someone is suffering if they tell you. Perhaps you might see the scars if they’e cut themselves, but for many of us, we put on a brave face so you wouldn’t know, and telling someone is really fucking difficult by the way.

You don’t want to burden anyone with your suffering. You’re embarrassed, ashamed, angry that you’re in such a negative frame of mind. You don’t think others will understand the pain you’re going through, what you’re feeling or how you’re feeling. Often they don’t and that is a real issue. So many sufferers do so in silence, to the point depression has been given the tag as the ‘silent killer’ as a result.

I mentioned pain there. It is pain. It’s just not physical so people don’t notice. This image illustrates quite well how many people respond to mental health issues, and how ridiculous it looks when you compare that to physical pain.

If physical injuries/health were treated like mental health/illness

If physical injuries/health were treated like mental health/illness


Sometimes it seems that I have no place

And I don’t know what to do, with myself

Night after another, I can taste the filth inside

And I need to cleanse my soul.

Nobody knows, nobody cares that I die on the inside

Nobody sees the lie that is me as I smile on the outside

Nobody knows, nobody cares that I walk on the wrong side

Tell me who… Nobody

All the friends that I had, where are they now?

Guess I’m far too intense to be loved

All the things that I hate, I hate about myself

And I need to cleanse my soul.  – “Nobody” – Amy Studt.

Those are lyrics to a song that, for me at least, relate better than I can put into words how I feel when I am depressed. You feel so alone. At times all you wish for is someone to just ask you how you are. How you really are. From my experience a lot of the time that’s what I feel I need, someone to talk to, someone who seems like they care.

My suffering, I believe, stems from a tough childhood. One where I was bullied regularly throughout my school life, not being as clever as I’d like to be (apparently I’m borderline autistic) and also having to deal with my sexuality. I’m from a family who has always struggled financially too.

I moved away at the first opportunity, to university, primarily for a fresh start in life, a first chance to be the man I wanted to be without the fear of what others thought of me. I wanted to get away and prove that I actually am good at something.

I did all that. Those were the best three years of my life, the last two anyway. I was in a place where I was accepted for who I am, and could be who I was, with no fear. I really found myself, a place I was genuinely happy for the first time in my life. I also got my degree, a 2:1 – I’d even surpassed my own expectations! Now I still had the odd bad day every now and then, but that’s all it ever was, a bad day.

Now I’m sat here back at home, back where I hated life. I’m here without the things and more importantly the people who made me happy at uni. I’m back living with my mother, and as much as I love her, the best part of three years away was great. I could do what I wanted when I wanted without anyone telling me what to do. I was independent and I loved it. I’m that unconfident, unhappy, unsociable 17 year old boy again who I fucking despised, and I feel trapped.

I’m currently looking for work. That’s the sugar-coated way of saying I’m on the dole, signing on every week. Associated with the slobs you see on TV. I’m embarrassed and ashamed at this too. I was working back in Chelmsford and had to give the job up to come back home. To be fair it wouldn’t have paid enough because I had my student loan back then. £57 in JSA just about affords a pot for me to piss in, the 35p Tesco Value pot noodles I’ve been living off at the moment. No nights out, no football matches – the things I actually enjoyed in life I can’t do. I can’t even go and see the handful of friends I have back here because I can’t afford the bus fare.

I’m also moving house. Moving from the family home that I’ve lived in since the day I was born. This is also very stressful, understandably. Trying to shift 35 years of crap from the house when it’s just you and mum, both out of work (my mum for health reasons) and broke. It’s taken its toll on both of us. Forever arguing because I’m not pulling my weight apparently, when I’m trying to juggle all this with looking for a job, with the now non-existent social life, my depression etc.

I don’t feel appreciated by my family in that respect. I don’t think they realise how tough being back home is for me, how tough it is without my friends, without the social life that took me 20 years to get, without a job, without any money. And they treat me as if I’m still a child. Mum’s the priority (don’t get me wrong the last few years have been very tough for her too for various reasons) but they forget about me. They forget, or don’t realise that I’m suffering too and that I’m 21 next week and have a life of my own which I sometimes need to put first.

That’s what caused the breakdown last night. Me and Mum argued for the umpteenth time since I’ve been back and we both boiled over. I spent an hour crying. Went out and sat at a random bus stop for an hour in an attempt to clear my head. It didn’t really help. Then I came home to the news depression had taken another great man from us.

Robin Williams 1951 - 2014

Robin Williams 1951 – 2014

Selfish? No, not at all. The problem with mental illness is that you feel like there is nowhere to turn. Suicide is the last resort. You’ve tried, you’ve battled but there is no light in the tunnel of your troubled mind. You’re alone, even with people around you. There’s no way out.

I’ve never attempted suicide. I guess I’m lucky in that respect, that I’ve never been that bad. I don’t think I’d have the bollocks to go through with something like that if truth be told, even though at times I’ve questioned what have I got to live for?

I don’t think there’s anywhere near enough support for mental illness sufferers, particularly depression. I like to compare it with cancer, they’re both actually very similar.

Cancer too does not care if you’re old or young, fat or thin, black or white, gay or straight, rich or poor, successful or otherwise. It also affects as many people as depression. You would never call someone selfish of dying from cancer, or ask “He/she had everything, why have they got cancer?” – That’s ridiculous. It’s just as ridiculous if that was depression. They’re both horrible illnesses yet one gets so much coverage, media attention and support, so many are aware of one but not the other. That needs to change.

Question: I ask you to try and name as many organisations/charities/fundraising events relating to cancer, off the top of your head, then do the same for mental health. Why is it that there are so many more of the former? Do we not know of any mental illness support networks available or is there just a lack of them?

The treatment you’re given too – I have sought help in the past. I had to wait six weeks before anyone contacted me regarding a counselling session earlier in the year. I couldn’t attend in the end due to uni work I had due in. That was a local organisation just focusing on teenagers/young adults. I dread to think how long the wait is on the NHS.

I’ve also been to my GP, more than once over the years. The courage you need to be able to book the appointment, go in and tell someone you barely know, in my case had never met, and tell them you suffer with depression is something I can’t quite explain. But you go in to basically be told to see how you go and come back in a couple of weeks, and that destroys you. You leave feeling even worse than before you went in. It’s as if they don’t care, that they have people with more important issues to be seeing instead, that they’re not bothered you’re suffering and this is your cry for help.

Imagine if you’d found a lump, turned up and your GP had told you to see how you are and come back in a few weeks. That could be the difference between you living and dying and I believe that’s exactly the same for depression too, for some people.

I was also given the label by my GP (as if I’ve not been labelled enough during my life) that I suffer with ‘mild depression’, this based on answering a few questions. That’s bullshit. Mild. If what I’ve gone through is considered mild then I certainly don’t blame anyone who resorts to self harming or worse. How fucking dare they call it mild when they themselves don’t know you, what you’re going through and you’ve been sat there with them for what, five minutes? That needs changing too.

I don’t bother with them anymore. Instead I suffer in relative silence, just hoping the next day is better than the last. I don’t really feel like there are places to go, people to talk to and I know that many of the millions of sufferers out there feel the same.

I don’t really know what I want to gain from this post to be honest. I guess the few hours I’ve spent writing it has given me something to do. It’s got stuff off my chest too I guess. If I’ve educated anyone with this (that’s if you’ve managed to sit through it) then that’s great, if anyone feels they can help me or anyone else they might know having read this then even better.

Even though I’m suffering I want to help people too. If you want someone to talk to to about anything or everything, you can talk to me if you like, in confidence. Chances are I can relate to some extent with what you’re going through and if I can help, even if I’m just ears and I can’t offer too much advice I will do my best. I want to help others because feeling like this is so fucking shit and nobody should have to.

Robin Williams shouldn’t have had to and it’s sad that his tragic demise is what it has taken to get people talking.

This is so very hypocritical of me to say given it’s how I feel a lot of the time, but don’t feel ashamed for feeling like this, or embarrassed to ask for help. Without the help of others we wouldn’t be capable of anything.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, it’s bloody long so fair play to you. I needed to write it, so even if nobody’s read it then I hope I feel better for it anyway. Again apologies if it didn’t make much sense.

If anyone wants to talk about anything then get in touch. Twitter’s your best bet @blake2108


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Robbie Rogers – A Second Coming Out.

Last night Robbie Keane hit a hat trick in a 4-0 win for LA Galaxy against Seattle Sounders at the Home Depot Center. Last night was also the first time in 20-odd years that football has had a high-profile openly gay participant.

It’s been a while since I last posted on this blog, the last few months I’ve been working on Bloggin’ The Blues, but my last post was back in January in which I talked about the subject of Homosexuality in Football. Little did I know that a month later an international footballer would announce he was gay. He simultaneously quit the game, but a couple of days ago a different Robbie, Robbie Rogers came out for the second time, this time out of retirement and last night took to the football pitch once again as a 77th minute substitute for his local side.

I remember reading about Rogers’ coming out post on his blog and feeling a number of different emotions. I was delighted that a well-known player had the balls to finally do it, but I was also saddened that he decided to quit the game at the same time. To me it was a case of two steps forward, one step back. It was fantastic for the sport that he had chosen to open up, but retiring suggested he felt he couldn’t be gay and play football.

But last night he did. His U-turn was something I predicted, perhaps not this soon, but I always knew after the support he has received and the years in the game beforehand he couldn’t stay away forever.

Rogers received an incredible reception from the home support last night, and I can’t imagine he’ll receive any different elsewhere. A California boy, it made sense for Rogers to return home to his local club. In interviews since he came out, he said a return to football would be in the MLS, and Chicago Fire, who owned his rights were happy to allow Rogers the move to Galaxy.

It shouldn’t be, I know, but Rogers’ return to football is a big thing, both for society and for the sport. There is a long way to go, and last night was just 13 minutes of a possible 10 years he has left in the game, but progress has been made. Personally he has realised that he still loves the game and that his sexuality isn’t enough to stop him playing, and in terms of everyone else, his team mates and supporters both in the US and worldwide have all accepted him and treat him no different. Galaxy skipper Landon Donovan has spoken of how Rogers inclusion with the squad in training was a huge benefit for the team. That step back I mentioned is most definitely being reversed.

Only time will tell how the midfielder’s return to the game will impact on both himself and the sport. He’s an established player who has represented his country at the Olympic Games and is an MLS Cup winner and is the first openly gay player to play in one of North America’s ‘big 5’ sporting leagues. I’ve seen nothing but praise and support for Rogers and long may that continue now he’s back playing.

I hope Rogers enjoys a successful career back in America. I hope both he and the support he has received from all over the world can and has inspired people, his fellow professionals who have felt they couldn’t come out; gay fans who have never felt accepted or represented within the sport and the LGBT community in general. There’s simply no place for homophobia in today’s society in general, never mind in football.

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Homosexuality in Football – Time to Come Out

Liverpool FC became the first Premier League club to be officially represented at an LGBT event.

Liverpool FC became the first Premier League club to be officially represented at an LGBT event last year.

Like London buses along comes another post. It’s one I’ve spent a lot longer writing and researching than any others I’ve written, and it’s about a subject that is quite controversial, and not often discussed – the issue of homosexuality in football.

To this day only two professional footballers have ever come out as gay. One tragically committed suicide while the other plays in the third tier of Swedish football. Without intending to disrespect both the late Justin Fashanu and Anton Hysén, I still feel that there isn’t any real ‘role model’ or representative for homosexuals in the sport.

In recent years, a number of sports have seen high profile, well respected participants come out as gay. The likes of diving, rugby, cricket and boxing for example. Yet Hysén aside, there are no openly gay football players playing currently. Why? We’re now in 2013, why is there not even one professional footballer who feels comfortable enough to come out. Because there are gay players out there, there must be.

A recent study performed by Bill Edgar, football statistician at The Times which was published on the BBC website (here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20801504) shows the chance of there having never been a gay Premier League footballer since 1993 is around 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000/1 (there are twenty-one noughts there if you didn’t want to count) – so it’s stupendously unlikely.

And doing my own mathematics here, on the basis of all Premier League teams having to submit 25-man squads, with approximately 500 players in the division, using the lowest percentage of the national average of 1.5%, as Edgar used, it’d suggest there are around seven or eight gay players currently playing in England’s top division.

There are a number of reasons why I thought I’d share my views on the subject, starting with the recent backing for homosexual players by two Premier League stars in recent months, with West Ham United’s Matt Jarvis even appearing in leading gay magazine Attitude this month.

Matt Jarvis' Attitude Cover

Matt Jarvis on the cover of Attitude magazine

Jarvis becomes only the third footballer ever to feature on the cover of the magazine after David Beckham and Freddie Ljungberg, and in a detailed interview explains that there isn’t or wouldn’t be an issue with the players or the game, but with the response from the terraces. While he stresses football fans aren’t necessarily homophobic he says: “In that tribal environment, in the heat of the moment and the heat of battle, the songs and chants just bubble up and rain down on you. And if you’re gay and out and that can be used to throw you off [your game], then it’s going to happen.”

The winger believes that a player coming out would help their game, as they could solely focus on playing to the best of their ability, without anything at the back of their minds, but he understands why no player has chosen to after the abuse suffered to the likes of Sol Campbell and Graeme Le Saux during their playing careers (despite both being straight).

“You can’t blame a player for choosing not to put himself through that. You can train, play and go back to the life you want without having to go public and face that. It’s not right, of course, it’s the 21st century, but you have to stand strong to get past that.”

Jarvis has played for four clubs in his career to date; Millwall as a youth player, Gillingham, Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Ham, but admits he but says he genuinely doesn’t know of a gay player, nor does anyone he’s ever played with, and he himself is married. He believes it’s about time a footballer joins Fashanu and Hysén in coming out as gay and he’d receive great backing and acceptance, explaining: “There’d be support everywhere within the football community, whether it be players, fans or within the PFA (Professional Footballers’ Association). There would definitely be groups of people who would be supportive and help them through it.”

Another footballer who has recently come out (pardon the pun) to discus homosexuality within the sport is Manchester United’s Anders Lindegaard in the form of an online blog post (found here (in Danish): http://betting.betfair.com/dk/ambassador/anders-lindegaard/homoseksualitet-i-fodbold-1-231112-539.html). He too has very encouraging comments on the subject.

Football needs a 'gay hero' according to Anders Lindegaard

Football needs a ‘gay hero’ according to Anders Lindegaard

His view is, like Jarvis that a player would worry about abuse from terraces, and the Danish international also agrees that no players would have a problem. He writes: “As a footballer I think first and foremost that a homosexual colleague is afraid of the reception he could get from the fans. My impression is that the players would not have a problem accepting a homosexual.”

Lindegaard adds: “A lot of football fans are stuck in a time of intolerance that does not deserved to be compared with modern society’s development in the last decades. While the rest of the world has been more liberal, civilised and less prejudiced, the world of football remains stuck in the past when it comes to tolerance.”

The goalkeeper, who confirmed he discussed his blog with his girlfriend before publishing, also stated how he felt not enough is being done, particularly in his native Denmark, making reference to a video made by the Dutch FA, saying “To turn a blind eye only indicates that one is not recognising that there is a problem. Of course there is a problem if young homosexuals, who love football, have to quit the sport because they feel excluded. That is in every way an unpleasant trend that does not belong in a modern and liberal society. Any discrimination towards people is and should be totally unacceptable, whether it is about skin colour, religion, sexuality etc.”

But of the entire blog post one comment in particular caught my interest significantly. The comment that “Homosexuals are in need of a hero. They are in need of someone who dares to stand up for their sexuality.”

If you know me, or you follow me on Twitter (@blake2108), you’ll probably know by now that I’m homosexual, and as a gay football fan I agree with Lindegaard to some extent. Whist playing the sport was never/has never been an ambition of mine, I have always wanted a player I could look up to, one proud to represent the gay community.

Of course, as in society in general, us homosexual football fans are in the minority and I know of only a small few myself, whose interest in the game is much more than twenty-two athletic men running around in shorts, but I feel it’ll only take one player, one high profile enough to make the difference and change the way homosexuality is treated (or not treated) in football.

The only current openly gay footballer - Anton Hysén came out in March 2011

The only current openly gay footballer – Anton Hysén came out in March 2011

I remember when I learnt of Anton Hysén’s coming out. I thought it was a huge milestone in the sport at the time, and I certainly did and still do look up to him in some respect. I admire him for being so brave in coming out and I know he has inspired many, many people. But he plays in the Swedish Third Division, and if truth be told we’d not know who he is if he’d have not come out. That’s what he’s known for, being gay, not for being a (talented) footballer. I wouldn’t call him a ‘gay hero’, the term Lindegaard uses in his blog.

Lindegaard’s comment is true in my case at least but for one word: need. I would love nothing more for this sport than a player coming out, should he chose to, but I don’t need one to. I’m 20 this year and have been a football fan for a long time without a gay player to idolise, and I’ve no doubt there are many fans much older than myself in the same position.

I’m very passionate about this subject for obvious reasons. I aspire to one day have a career in football, albeit as a journalist but I hope I’ll be respected like any other journalist, or fan of the game. Like I’d hope and expect a player to if one ever feels comfortable enough to come out.

I agree with a lot of what both players have said. I’d be lying if I said I believed a player would get no abuse at all from football fans if he were to come out, but it would be in the minority. I see homophobia in football as similar to racism in that respect. It’s in the minority obviously, but I don’t think it’d be something you’d ever be able to fully kick out of the game unfortunately.

I’ve only made it fully public about myself in recent weeks, and the support I’ve received in that time has been fantastic. Hundreds of football fans from all over the country follow me on Twitter, where I do make reference to my sexuality, and I’ve had no negative response from anyone.

I can’t see it being all too different for a footballer. I’d like to praise, and thank both Lindegaard and Jarvis for speaking out on the subject. Very few footballers do. Why, I do not know. But I have a lot of time and respect for them both as I’m sure their comments would be encouraging for any homosexual within the game.

If these positive comments from relatively high profile names in the sport in this country don’t help in encouraging a footballer to come out, I hope it’ll at least encourage their colleagues to talk about the subject, even in a negative light, instead of not acknowledging that the issue exists.

I do believe we are getting closer to a player coming out. Maybe my wanting of it to happen makes me believe that way, but surely, it’s only a matter of time. And when one does, I hope the positive reaction and support I’m confident he’ll receive will encourage many more to do the same.

I stress though that I would never want anyone to feel forced into it or be outed in any way. While on a personal level I know I felt a lot better about myself afterwards, finally being able to be myself and live the life I want to the full with no secrets and no lies, it took me time and it was done on my terms, which is why I understand why a gay player has yet to come out in the Premier League, or any other top division in the world.

I just hope that with recent support and backing from the likes of Lindegaard and Jarvis, and the support Hysén and fellow homosexual sports men and women have received in the last few years, it’s a case of when and how soon, and not if we will see openly gay men playing the beautiful game.

(The full interview with Matt Jarvis is well worth a read, and his issue of Attitude magazine is still available to purchase in shops and online http://www.attitude.co.uk/)

Any thoughts/comments on this post and on the subject will be very much welcomed. Twitter: @blake2108

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A blog about footballers autographs, or lack of them.

When asked about my hobbies I never really know what to say. I guess I’m a pretty dull person in that respect. Something I do have a keen interest in though, is autograph collecting.

I’m proud to say I have personally obtained almost 100 different signatures in my collection so far, from footballers who have won everything in the game, who have been to World Cups, Olympic Games etc.

I reckon I could have obtained many more autographs by now though, if it wasn’t for those footballers who ignore us fans, and that’s what this rant blog entry is about.

I just don’t get it. I don’t understand why certain players haven’t got it in them to spend a few minutes, or even seconds of their time signing a few autographs for supporters. In the few years I’ve been collecting, unfortunately, more players have chosen to ignore me than sign for me.

I’ll talk briefly about my last attempt in collecting autographs, last weekend at St. Andrew’s; Birmingham City’s first league game of the season.  I get to the ground stupidly early, to ensure I wouldn’t miss any of the players arriving. Having met most the players last season, I was only really there to see the new faces.

To cut a long story short(er), most of the players I was hoping to meet drove straight past me, when they eventually arrived. Frustrating having stood waiting for a good three and a half hours, for seconds of their time.

There was one player in particular whose autograph I was after, and it was just my luck he was one of those who went past. He arrived in a taxi, and I heard him request the driver to drive straight past the four people waiting, when other players have got out to greet fans in the past, including earlier that day.

Not satisfied, I intended to wait after the match too, but thought I wouldn’t have to when he told fans, most of these just young kids, he’d sign stuff after his warm up. He buggered off inside without signing one.

So I waited afterwards too. He must have escaped via another exit because a good hour and a half had past and he was nowhere to be seen.  Managed to get a couple of others who had driven past pre-match though, silver lining I suppose.

But in total I had spent eight hours at the ground that day, and all I really wanted was just one player’s squiggle on some photo (that I’d rushed to Boots to get printed off especially) and a shirt, perhaps a photo with him too. Was that too much to ask?

If you follow me on twitter (@blake2108) you’ll know who it was I was after. You could probably guess anyway. One Birmingham player stands out in terms of media and fan interest at the moment. If you have followed me for a while you’ll also know that this is an issue that annoys me considerably, and you might know another story that sticks out in my mind.

This time at Villa Park, where I’ve obtained most of my autographs; they were playing Manchester United. I’d attended the game on an incredibly cold December evening.

The Man United players came out afterwards, I was one of many fans there waiting freezing their balls off hoping to get some autographs, but one by one they boarded the team bus, and stayed there.

Only one of the eighteen or twenty players they brought with them signed for everyone. Nani – he signed my matchday programme. Patrice Evra signed for just a couple of people. Disgraceful really as the majority waiting were United fans.

I won’t forget Phil Jones getting on that bus. We could still see him through the window; he was looking at us too. No doubt he could hear us calling his name, to sign a few things. No chance. He looked down at us as if we were lesser than him, not important.

Yet it’s us, the fans, who are the reason players like Jones are even in a job, why footballers earn the stupid wages they do. We buy the tickets, and the replica shirts every season and all we ever ask for in return is three points on a Saturday. It’s surely the least a player can do, signing autographs for fans after a match we’ve worked all week to be able to afford.

I would love to know why they don’t bother though. They chose a career which throws them into the public eye. It might not be enjoyable for them, signing numerous autographs, but surely that’s one of the small negatives a player earning thousands of pounds a week would encounter?

I know sometimes players are discouraged, because some fans profit from players signing photos and stuff, but then that’s unfair on us fans who collect for ourselves, to treasure for years to come, especially the young kids who idolise these people.

And anyway, many players earn millions a year doing what they do, the fans don’t. What’s wrong with some fans trying to make a little extra money, considering times are so hard at the moment? Someone somewhere will treasure the autograph, whether or not it the person who originally obtains it.

I myself wouldn’t do that. I’ve kept all my autographs that I’ve collected over the years and I wouldn’t think of selling them, and times are hard for me and my family. Some of my autographs I treasure so much I’ve even had them framed and have them proudly displayed in my room.

On a positive note, not all footballers are like that.  Some away players have signed in the past for me, including managers too. Tom Cleverley signed autographs for everyone when he was on loan at Wigan; I thanked him for mine on his Facebook page, to which he replied to me, twice.

I’ve had autographs from players who have left the ground on crutches before too, struggling to walk yet they still make sure they sign for supporters.

Players still stop for me having met them four, five times before. They must be sick of the sight of me but they do it. They’ve cracked jokes and I’ve had brief chats with a few of them too, and the majority of those I have been lucky enough to meet, have come across as great people.

I just wish all footballers were like that, not like those from clubs like Man City, when not one player signed a single autograph for fans after the Community Shield. Yaya Toure; two-hundred odd grand a week clearly isn’t enough for him to sign a few. Ridiculous!

So if by the off chance you’re a professional footballer reading this, one who often tries to avoid signing autographs, I’d quite like it if you thought about the fans a bit more, the effort and money they put into supporting their club, the fact they’re the reason you’re in a job and the fact that five seconds of your time, writing your name on a bit of paper, can make a fan’s day. Not that much of an ask, is it really?

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Great Britain – Average squad: Time to take these tournaments seriously.

Today Team GB manager Stuart Pearce announced the 18 footballers who are now officially Olympians – The players he has picked to play in the 2012 Olympic Football Tournament.

As a passionate football fan, especially when it comes to my nation, in recent years it has really frustrated me, the lack of our best players appearing in the so called lesser competitions, and I do believe that this is a big factor in why the senior side always disappoints

Team GB have a glorious chance at winning something in the Olympic Football Tournament, something that is rare for all four nations that make up Great Britain. We should be taking it seriously, like other teams have done in the past, and those teams have tended to be successful in doing that.

Calling up Championship standard players however is not the way to go about winning a tournament, and my optimism for our chances has reduced dramatically.

You look at the European Under 21 Championships last year, key players Andy Carroll, Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere didn’t go and we failed to qualify from the group, whilst Spain, who ended the tournament champions, had two World Cup winners in their side.

Did those three players benefit from missing out on tournament football, despite it being at Under 21 level? I wouldn’t really say so, and in Wilshere’s case, not representing his country was the worst thing to happen to him. He’s still months from returning from an injury picked up in the pre-season following.

And in my eyes there is all sorts wrong with Phycho’s Team GB selection. Our best Under 23 players are nowhere in sight. That’s because they went to Euro 2012 (needlessly in my opinion) and there’s a rule in place that those players aren’t available for selection.

Players like Phil Jones, Jordan Henderson, Martin Kelly, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Butland, who all contributed very little or nothing at all to our European Championship hopes, yet would have had plenty to offer our team at the Olympic Games.

Had we taken players such as Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Micah Richards, Adam Johnson to the Euros instead, not only does the England squad look much stronger but it would have allowed these younger players this once in a lifetime opportunity to play for Team GB and enhance our chances of success there.

Obviously players such as Carrick and Richards turned down standby positions within the England set up, but many argue both should have been in the squad originally.

I think those Under 23 players should be in the squad, they were deemed good enough for the England squad so the ability is there, and the experience would have done them the world of good. Perhaps if we were to win the competition, those players would become hungry for more success in the senior side.

Going back four years, Barcelona at first refused Lionel Messi the chance to play at the Beijing games, however new manager Pep Guardiola agreed let him go. He won gold and you can argue that kick-started his dominance of football.

I’m not saying we have a Messi in our ranks but teams like Argentina and Brazil last time round took the Olympics very seriously, and both finished with medals.

English clubs also deny the national team any success and that’s why those players haven’t been selected for Team GB. Birmingham City have given Jack Butland permission to play at the Olympics, but I can only assume other managers have not. Not that Pearce needed these clubs permission anyway.

The Olympic Football Tournament is a FIFA recognised competition, meaning no club can prevent an Under 23 player from being called up. The FA give clubs far too much respect, and it’s why we struggle so much in tournaments.

To me there is no greater honour in football than representing your country, and it’s clear, and very sad to see, that these days that the former wins the famous argument of Club v Country.

A lot needs to be done before England become a nation capable of winning things, and clubs need to help with that. The FA need to stand up to these clubs. They need to put a foot down and so should the players, should they be passionate enough to play for our country.

There’s nothing that can be done now, the squad’s been announced, and by all means I’ll support Team GB as far as they go in the Olympic Football Tournament, but unless we win the thing I’ll always believe we could have done better having called up our best 18 players.

I’d complain about the overage players as well, and the lack of David Beckham but our future is in our youth and they’re the ones who would have got the most out of this event.

I had a ticket to see Team GB in their opening game v Senegal at Old Trafford. Having seen the players called up, the likes of Marvin Sordell and Jack Cork and James Tomkins who were all playing in the Championship last season and without star attractions Beckham and Gareth Bale, to me the expenses of attending the game aren’t worth it anymore. I don’t believe I’m the only one to have lost some interest; some weren’t bothered in the first place.

I want the best for my country and I want to see us win something, at whatever level. I would have thought that with the help of Welsh players (and Scottish/Northern Irish had they been selected) we’d have grabbed this opportunity with both hands, especially as it’s on our turf too, as it looks like it’ll be quite some time before England host another tournament like this. I really don’t think we have though, and it’s such a shame.

Quite simply, we need to start taking competitions such as the Olympic Football Tournament and the other youth events seriously before we’ll ever challenge at senior level. Other nations have done it to great success. It’s about time we learnt from them.

Trying to think positively, there are still some great names in the squad and I guess we’ve no choice but to back the team now. I just hope in future tournaments we take our best players, like I’m sure Brazil and Spain will for London 2012, and they’ll probably be successful.

I very much hope Team GB prove me wrong though. I’ll be delighted should we win a medal.

That said, has any team managed by Pearce done particularly well?

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Aaron Ramsey – Give the lad a break!

(Just so you know, there’s no pun intended with the title of this post)

I’m a massive fan of Aaron Ramsey’s, ever since his Cardiff City days, but of late Arsenal’s young midfielder has been under some heavy criticism concerning his performances for the Gunners, all of which I feel are uncalled for.

Ryan Shawcross’ reckless challenge causing a double fracture to Aaron Ramsey’s right leg on February 27th 2010

I’ve followed his career closely since and as a fan of Ramsey’s I was obviously devastated like many other football fans on that evening in late February two years ago.

I felt sick even, when I saw the results of Ryan Shawcross’ challenge at the Britannia that night. I’d seen injuries like that occur before, but not to a player I was such a fan of. It was even worse considering this happened to a nineteen year old lad, making real progress in the Premier League at the time.

Ramsey showed great mental strength and determination to get over such a horrific injury at such an important time in his career, something I don’t feel he gets enough credit for. It’s quite amazing to think that Ramsey was playing competitive football just nine months later.

Fast forward two years and here you see Ramsey playing regularly at one of England’s largest clubs, too regularly for my liking, playing in the world’s biggest competitions too. Somehow he’s been the victim of a fair bit of criticism from Arsenal fans. I’m not quite sure why.

I agree with many an Arsenal fan that of late Ramsey has been playing quite poor, but I don’t think some of them realise how much pressure he’s been under the last year or so.

It’s only just over twelve months since the Welshman made his return in an Arsenal shirt in the Premier League. In that time he’s had to deal with a hell

Ramsey in action for Arsenal this season

of a lot, and you can’t blame the player for struggling a bit towards the end of his first full season back since the injury.

Aaron Ramsey has played 41 times this season so far, and that’s not including games for his country. That’s the highest appearance tally for a season of his career to date. The highest total before that was 29 in 2009/10, but obviously his season was cut short then.

But 41 games is a lot for any player, not just one making his return from a career threatening injury. I don’t think Arsene Wenger had any intentions whatsoever of playing Ramsey so frequently this term, however injury to Jack Wilshere this season has meant there was little other alternative but for Ramsey to play.

Wenger has really chucked Ramsey in the deep end as far as I’m concerned. I also imagine that Cesc Fabregas was a huge influence to the Welshman in the years before, and the months after his injury, but with him being sold as well, even more weight was put upon his shoulders.

That’s just the weight from Arsenal. No more than a fortnight after his return to Arsenal’s team, Ramsey was handed the captain’s armband by Wales national team manager Gary Speed, this when he was still only 20 years old.

Ramsey in his first game as Wales Captain vs England, aged 20

I thought it was an incorrect decision at the time, however since becoming skipper he’s managed to help lead Wales from a Fifa ranking of 116th in the world to 41st today. Ramsey’s also scored three goals in the last year for his country too, all in victories.

Though with the positives of the pressures of being Wales captain, came the negatives, with the news that Speed, a man and manager who I can assume was another huge influence on Ramsey, had committed suicide.

Ramsey was no doubt close to Speed so the shock revelation must have been very difficult to take, especially mid-season with Arsenal. Even now Ramsey’s profile picture on Twitter, a site he uses much less these days probably due to continued criticism, is of himself and Speed together on the training pitch.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose someone so close to you, who you’ve had a close relationship with, and so suddenly like that, yet Ramsey’s dusted himself down and got on with things at Arsenal, whilst retaining the Wales captaincy under new boss Chris Coleman.

Ramsey with the late Gary Speed, who appointed him as captain when in charge of Wales

To add to all of that, if you’re a believer in these things (I’m not), there’s also the fear that another goal for the Caerphilly born midfielder will lead to another death of a celebrity. He’s taken Bin Laden, Jobs, Gaddafi and Whitney so far, whoever’s next?

Joking aside, after the last three years Ramsey’s had, who can blame him that in mid-April of his busiest season yet he’s struggling for form? I imagine all the stick he’s received, including some from one of his own supporters commenting on a particular performance saying “No wonder Gary Speed hung himself”, hasn’t helped him in the slightest. If anything it’s knocked his confidence no end.

The lad needs a break. I still have faith that Ramsey can become a fantastic midfielder for both Arsenal and Wales. His injury and its timing wasn’t ideal of course but you’ve got to give him credit in overcoming that as quickly as it did. He’s missed nearly a year of his career because of it and that’s such a long time in football development at that age.

Ramsey will no doubt have a hectic 2012/13 season too, most likely beginning with the Olympic Games in late July. He’ll have the same pressures, of running Arsenal’s midfield, and helping Wales in their attempt to qualify for the 2014 Wold Cup, but he’ll have learnt from this season.

Scoring in the North London Derby. Hopefully there’ll be happier times for Ramsey next season

I write this two days after Ramsey made his 100th competitive appearance for Arsenal. Phenomenal to think he’s clocked up that many games already,especially with the injury lay-off. And he’s still only 21.

With Wilshere back hopefully next year, a lot more impetus will be on him, and who knows what Wenger may do in the summer transfer window. maybe Ramsey will have much more competition for places in the side.

He’s still young and he’s had a difficult last couple of years. I really do hope fans stop giving him so much stick. I believe one day Aaron Ramsey’ll become the player we all hoped and expected he would.

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My thoughts are with you, Stan – A personal take on the last few days.

It can be a cruel world sometimes; the bad people not getting what they deserve, the good people not getting what they deserve.

Stiliyan Petrov is one of those ‘good people’. The sad news broke Friday lunchtime that the Aston Villa captain had been diagnosed with acute leukaemia, shocking the world of football.

Petrov in action versus Arsenal just nine days ago

It was a matter of minutes after the announcement that the UK and the world were talking about it, leaving messages of support for the Bulgarian midfielder, who as well as Villa captains his national side, on social networking sites, #prayforpetrov becoming one of the top UK trends on Twitter.

The following day, Petrov’s club Aston Villa hosted Chelsea in the Barclays Premier League with the news still very raw to many a supporter. I went along, despite me being a fan of rivals Birmingham City. As an autograph collector I had intentions of going to Villa Park that day anyway, although not to see the game. However once the news was announced I wanted to show my own support to Stan, as he is affectionately known at Villa.

It was an emotional day in B6. An improved attendance at the ground paid tribute to Stan in a number of ways. Fans produced banners, shirts with messages of their love and support for their captain, and in return the captain showed his love for the club by firstly insisting the game go ahead in the first place, but also being there too.

Petrov emotionally acknowledging fans during the 19th minute at Villa Park on Saturday

I had heard rumours on Twitter that morning that he would be there, however these rumours weren’t confirmed to me, sat in the Holte End, till minutes before kick-off. Stadium announcer of the day Jack Woodward informed nearly 35,000 of us present that Petrov was too, to which applause and chanting of “One Stiliyan Petrov” was muting an emotional statement being read by Stan in which he told: “With the help and love of my family, my team-mates, all of my friends in football, Aston Villa and all of the fans, I am sure I will beat this illness and I am determined to do this.”

It must have been different for me, someone who was there as a neutral really, compared to the Aston Villa fans who adore him, but I was still incredibly moved by the tributes made to Stan on Saturday. Most notably the ovation and applause, planned again on Twitter, in the 19th minute of the game – 19 being the number Petrov wears for Villa. Again chants of Stan’s name went around all four stands. It was a very touching moment, one I will never forget as a football fan.

Chelsea players wearing t-shirts in support of Petrov

I found myself willing Villa to a result, which isn’t something I usually do! You could see the players in claret and blue really did want to win for Stan. I left the match a tad disappointed they couldn’t hold on for at least a point.

It was also very pleasant to see that, despite continued criticism of manager Alex McLeish, not one fan (where I was sitting anyway) booed him, or his players, or made any calls for his sacking. Saturday was about one man only.

Players of both sides wore t-shirts during the warm-up with messages of support for Petrov, and upon scoring the equaliser at 2-2, Eric Lichaj carved the number 19 into the Villa Park turf (which you can see here http://goo.gl/czX9s). Lichaj also told that Stan had been into the dressing room prior to kick-off to help motivate the side.

If being there, both in the crowd and in the dressing room before the game wasn’t enough to show what a great man Stan is, during the half-time activities he also donated £1500 out of his own pocket to charity.

A banner at Celtic's game on Sunday

Support from all over the footballing globe has come in for Petrov. His namesake and national teammate, Martin celebrated a goal for Bolton with the message “Be strong Stan” on his shirt and the supporters of former clubs Celtic and CSKA Sofia followed suit of Villa by applauding during the 19th minute of their weekend matches.

On my hunt for autographs in the last couple of years I’ve met many an Aston Villa player, however Petrov wasn’t one of them. I do know he is loved by so many associated with Villa though; a player who very much loves the club and its fans, who always fight for results; a true leader.

I know that his mental attributes on the football field will stand in good stead for Petrov, who begins treatment today (Monday) and although a difficult battle for the 32 year-old lies ahead, I am confident, like against many a football team he’s played over his career, he will come out of this victorious.

I’d like to take the opportunity to personally wish Stan all the best with his treatment. He’s a true gentleman, both on and off the pitch and I among many, many others hope he makes a full recovery, and is one day leading out an Aston Villa side again.

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