LEGEND: LIONEL MESSI

Lionel Messi is undoubtedly one of the greatest footballers in the world. His skills are amazing and have won him accolades in the football world. 

Here are eight facts about the Argentinian football maestro.

1. The Argentinian was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency at a young age. He signed with FC Barcelona and moved to Spain at the age of 13 and the football club agreed to pay for his treatment, according to his contract.

2. He made his debut for FC Barcelona on November 16, 2003.

Photo Courtesy: FC Barcelona

3. He has the won the European Golden Shoe award in four seasons — 2009-10, 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2016-17.

4. Messi set the all-time record for most goals scored in a single season for a major European football league with 73 goals.

5. He won the Golden Ball award for the best player of the 2014 World Cup.

Photo Courtesy: WRUF

6. The Argentinan star is the founder of the Leo Messi Foundation, which aims to improve healthcare and education for children.

Fundacion Leo Messi

7. Messi was named a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.

8. He was placed No 2 in Forbes’ list of highest paid athletes.

FANTASY FOOTBALL TIPS

Here are five secrets, tips, hints for fantasy football managers.

1. Transfers on late Saturday/early Sunday and Wednesday nights. Act before the rest.

The Fantasy Premier League site https://fantasy.premierleague.com/ updates a player’s value based on his “transfers in” and “transfers out” ratio. This means after the weekend’s games you should confidently make your transfers before everyone else. Most people wait until they’re at work on Monday to act. If a player underperformed on Sunday, don’t wait until later in the week to sell him. Sell him Sunday night before his value drops. By Wednesday night, during Champions League season, you should have important updates on injuries and possible player rotation for the “bigger” clubs’ upcoming weekend fixtures. A common strategy for me is to make one or two immediate moves Sunday, feel out the midweek, and try to save a transfer for late in the week in case a player picks up a surprise training injury or didn’t recover from injury in time.

2. Cheap overachieving goalkeepers and defenders. Value vs. Points.

Don’t spend on expensive goalkeepers or defenders especially early on in the season. Last year Tom Heaton was one of the top keepers from the start and he was a bargain. Gareth McAuley had an incredible start to the season and his value shot through the roof. Other cheap defenders that were consistently on my team sheet throughout the season were Nathan Aké and Patrick van Aanholt. Since it’s common for defenders to pull 1-2 points each week, my preferred formation is 3-4-3 and 3-5-2. In ten years, I started four defenders in a game a handful of times and it was due to crazy fixtures with teams not playing that particular week. Later on in the season once my team value is sizzling, I may switch a cheaper defender for a big hitter.

3. Check FPLHINTS (injury, form, value, captain).

The key to using this site https://fantasypremierleaguehints.blogspot.com/ is to plan out all my gut instinct transfer moves FIRST, and then check the site to see if I missed something. Their advice is the green light for me to push “confirm.” They also have a neat FAQ section with helpful FPL hints including how to choose your captain. This is key with my strategy because gambling on captain choice and going against the obvious favorite gives me a distinct advantage.

4. Join Head-to-Head league and prepare for next opponent.

This one is one of my favorites. By checking my next opponent’s team, I can plan my transfers, line-up, formation, captain so I won’t lose this individual battle. It almost always translates into a win overall. It doesn’t mean I go overboard and totally overhaul my team based on someone’s ridiculous team. It just means checking out someone else’s perspective. They will often have a player who is sneakily and consistently bringing in points.

5. Most important: Build Team Value! Make 1-3 transfers every week.

Building team value in the first half of the season is the most important tip for me. I make 1-3 transfers per week until around January. I go for the in-form players I think the masses will buy. If Christian Eriksen scored a goal and had two assists, I’m buying him. Buy players early and sell if they’re not performing for two consecutive weeks. I’m not patient with ANY player who doesn’t perform two weeks in a row. It doesn’t matter if it’s Sergio Aguero. Get them out before their value drops and get someone else who’s heating up like Sadio Mané or Gylfi Sigurdsson. The key is to balance each week’s transfers points deduction (-4 points or -8 points) especially early on in the season. I don’t mind taking a hit for a few weeks early on because I know after January when most people will have one or two strong forwards, I can pull Aguero, Kane, and Lukaku until May while still having a monster midfield. After January, I rarely lose a Head-to-Head matchup and jump from mid-table in my mini-leagues to number one almost every time.

LEGEND: GEORGE BEST

Here are 20 nuggets of information that you may, or may not, know about the Belfast man.

1. Best grew up supporting Glentoran and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

2. He passed his 11 plus exam and went to rugby playing Grammar school for a short time.

3. Best was rejected by Glentoran for being too small and lightweight before being spotted by United.

4. He went for his trial at United with Eric McMordie, who would go on to play for Middlesborough and Northern Ireland.

5. Best was homesick after two days with United and went home before eventually going back.

6. His debut was a 1-0 defeat of West Brom at Old Trafford, 50 years ago today.

7. During a Rolling Stones performance on Top of the Pops in 1965, Best appeared in the audience as a very shy looking teenage. (1:38)

8. Best scored twice in European Cup quarter-final in Lisbon against Benfica on March 9th 1966. The Portuguese media called him “O Quinto Beatle” or “the fifth Beatle”.

9. By the age of 22, he had won the league championship, European Cup and the European footballer of the year award.

10. He scored six goals in one match for United, in a Cup tie with Northampton in 1970. A feat most widely remembered for his celebration of the sixth.

11. Best played 37 times for Northern Ireland between 1964 and ’77, scoring nine times, but his most famous goal was one that didn’t even count, against England in 1971.

12. He was United’s top scorer for six straight seasons from 1966 until 1972

13. In November 1972, he pulled out of an international against Spain because he had received death threats from the IRA.

14. His final game for United came on New Years Day in 1974 against QPR, which was lost 3-0.

15. His first club after United was Jewish Guild in South Africa, a club now known for lawn bowling.

16. During the 60s and 70s, he starred in commercials for Cookstown sausages, the stuff of celebrity.

17. While playing with Hibernian in Scotland in 1980 he was sacked after going on a massive drinking session with the French rugby team, who were in town to play Scotland

18. He played three matches for two Hong Kong First Division teams in 1982, Hong Kong Rangers and Sea Bee, who no longer exist.

19. On top of his numerous clubs from Britain, the US and around the world, in 1984 he even turned out for Ford Open Prison. Best had received a three-month prison sentence for drunk driving, assaulting a police officer and failing to answer bail.

20. In an 1990 interview with Terry Wogan on television, Best was visibly drunk when he was on the show, blurting out, “I like screwing”.

LEGEND: PAUL GASCOIGNE

Paul John Gascoigne’s turbulent life has been tinged with sadness and tragedy since his humble beginnings on Tyneside when his demons first surfaced and football became his only refuge.

The second of John and Carol Gascoigne’s four children, he initially lived in a council-owned family home that boasted just one upstairs room and a shared bathroom at 29 Pitt Street, Gateshead.

His first memory was of being pushed along his street eating a fishcake and the nearest thing the family came to a holiday was a day trip to Whitley Bay while Christmas meant carol-singing to purchase sweets or cigarettes for his parents whom he saw argue violently.

Domestic violence, this time between siblings, escalated when his hod-carrier father headed to Germany in search of work where he spent a year while his wife ended up with three jobs to make ends meet.

Not surprisingly, the young Gascoigne was beset with insecurities and in his autobiography, Gazza, he revealed he started contemplating death aged just seven when walking home alone after playing football.

“Suddenly I was scared and I ran all the way home, screaming and crying,” Gascoigne, 41, said.

“I got into bed with me Mam and Dad, squeezed in beside them, cuddled close. I didn’t tell them why I’d been screaming. I just sort of hid it in my head.”

Death stare him in the face at the age of 10 when he took his friend’s little brother, Steven Spraggon, to a local shop but while Gascoigne was “mucking around” the youngster died after running out into Derwentwater Road and was knocked down by an ice-cream van.

“I was on my own with him for what seemed like ages,” Gascoigne recalled. ” It was the first dead body I’d ever seen and I felt Stephen’s death was my fault. I still go over the accident in my mind. Just speaking of it can make me cry.”

Gascoigne’s father returned from Germany but familial stability was still absent as he suffered a brain haemorrhage and never worked again.

“It was around this time I started displaying peculiar twitches and making lots of noises,” Gascoigne said in his memoirs ghost-written by Hunter Davies.

That was when his inability to sleep without lights materialised and psychiatric help for a schoolboy who suffered depression at the age of 13 and stole to fund an addiction to gaming machines.

There was no need for counselling when he came to football as he excelled for Redheugh Boys’ Club and Gateshead Boys before joining Newcastle as an apprentice in 1983 and he was nicknamed ‘Gazza’.

The chunky, curly-haired youth’s brilliance was recognised by manager Jack Charlton whose disciplined approach worked wonders and he was made youth-team captain.

His reputation grew in the victorious Youth Cup Final against Watford when he scored a sumptuous 30-yarder.

“You’ll have to wait a thousand years to see that again,” Charlton said to assistant Maurice Setters.

Gazza was handed his Newcastle debut by Charlton in 1985 and spent three more years at St James’ Park – winning the Barclays Young Player of the Year Award in 1988 in the process – before Tottenham fought off Manchester United’s advances, signing the midfielder for a British-record £2.3-million.

He prospered under Terry Venables – his weekly wage rose from £120 to £1,500 -and earned a place in Bobby Robson’s England squad at the 1990 World Cup where his performances and his tearful reaction to the booking that would have ruled him out of the final bewitched the planet, invigorated the national game and sparked Gazza-mania.

The BBC Sports Personality of the Year underlined his potential with scorching free-kick past Arsenal’s David Seaman in an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.

With a lucrative move to Lazio in the offing, Gascoigne had the chance to quit Tottenham on a high in the final but badly damaged a knee with a rash challenge on Nottingham Forest’s Gary Charles.

Hospitalised, Gascoigne gained a Cup winner’s medal but his career was in ruins and he ended up waiting more than a year before making his Lazio debut after his rehabilitation was hindered by a Newcastle nightclub fracas.

Accompanied by life-long friend Jimmy ˜Fivebellies’ Gardner, Gascoigne failed to settle in the Eternal City before heading to Rangers in July 1995 and reviving his career with a hat-trick that clinched his club the Scottish championship.

Yet, his penchant for self-destruction was still apparent though and he was subjected to IRA death threats when he provocatively mimicked Orange Order flute-playing in an Old Firm game at Celtic.

Indeed, Gascoigne’s off-the-field problems have been a recurrent and damaging theme of his life with late-night binges and a stormy, violent relationship with former wife Sheryl ensuring a string of unpleasant front-page headlines.

In March 1998 he returned to England to play for Middlesbrough but his time on Teesside is best remembered for the day he wrote off the team bus before being checked into the Priory Hospital to receive treatment for stress, depression and drink problems.

He could no longer rely upon football as a crutch and he was left distraught when he was omitted from Glenn Hoddle’s England squad for the 1998 World Cup as memories of his extraordinary goal in the Euro 96 clash with Scotland faded.

Later, another unfulfilling move to Walter Smith’s Everton followed before disappointing spells with Burnley, Boston and Chinese club Gansu Tianma as well as an unsuccessful trial with MLS side DC United.

He tried his luck at management with Kettering Town but lasted 39 days before dismissal as the club owners blamed his continuing alcohol problems.

His habit was no doubt responsible for the emergency surgery he required for a perforated stomach ulcer as his 40th birthday celebrations took a turn for the worse and his health – “both physical and mental” – spiralled downwards.

It was a reality check for Gascoigne whose handful of honours and 57 England caps are the only tangible rewards for the most gifted player of his generation.

THE CORNER KICK

On average, there are 11 corners during a 90-minute football match. They present excellent attacking options for the team on the attack and can prove a nightmare for those trying to defend. Whatever position you play, it’s crucial you’re aware of your role when it comes to the inevitable corner. If you and your team are on the attack, you really need to be on the ball

Corners are perfect goal-scoring opportunities. They require you to use your initiative, communicate and above all, work as a team. Without practice, you’ll struggle to succeed. But with persistence and the right attitude, corners can become as lucrative as penalties. So we’ve come up with some top tips for pulling off the perfect corner.


Preparation

First thing’s first, preparation. Understand who’s going to be taking the corner and what set-play you’re going to try and pull off. Every player on the team should known their role and their position. Spend plenty of time on the training-field practising set-pieces and work out what works best for you and your team.  

Signal to your teammates

You’ve stepped up to the corner flag. Your teammates are counting on you to deliver an accurate, well-placed ball. But before you take the corner you need to make sure your teammates know the intended target and intended outcome of the corner. Your teammates positioning in the box will depend on the style of corner you’re going for, but it’s always a good idea to have a player positioned on each post. It’s your job to signal to your teammates what tactic you’re going for. When on the training field, try different methods and practice a range of tactics. Set specific signals for set pieces that work particularly well.

Master the in-swinging corner kicks

In-swinging corner kicks are directed away from the net, but as the ball reaches the near-post it begins to swing back towards goal. The trajectory of the ball means it’s already heading towards goal, which is going to work to any attackers advantage. However this also means it’s easier for the goalkeeper to intercept the ball mid-flight. Naturally, in-swinging corners are easier to get right if the corner kick-taker’s strong foot matches the equivalent corner (e.g. right-footed, right side of the goal).

Master the out-swinging corner kicks

Opposite to the in-swinging, out-swinging corner kicks bend away from the goal line as they approach the posts. This might seem unnatural as the ball moves away from the intended target, however it makes it much harder for the keeper to leave his line and collect the ball. With more practice, you’ll be able to put more bend on the ball and thus confuse the keeper! But bear in mind you’re primary aim is to reach one of your teammates, not to confuse the keeper.

Consider the short corner kicks

Short corner kicks can be perfect for confusing the opposition. Signal for a teammate to run up and approach the corner flag. If your opponents are still trying to organise their defensive line, there’s a chance they won’t have even noticed the corner being taken. Short corners present you with a different plan of attack. Maybe you want to dribble at goal, or play it out wide – either way you now have a number of options at your disposal!

LEGEND: PETER SHILTON

Peter Shilton OBE , started his Goalkeeping career as an apprentice for Leicester City at 15 years old, making his debut at 16 becoming the youngest player to have played for his hometown club. At the age of 17 Peter started playing for the club after they sold Gordon Banks. Peter played for the club until 1974 gaining promotions, appearing in the FA Cup Final in 1969 and even scored a goal against Southampton when he was 18 and also playing for England at all levels while at the Club.

In 1974 Stoke City paid a world record fee of £350,000 for Peter to sign with them, until he moved to Nottingham Forest in 1977. Brian Clough and Peter Taylor managed the team and the club went onto win the League in his first season of Peter playing with them. Two successive European cups followed, with League Cup success as well ! 42 games unbeaten and a Super Cup success also followed.

Peter joined Southampton Football Club from 1982-1988, getting to 3 semi finals, 2 FA Cups and a League Cup plus runner up in the Premier League. Robert Maxwell was the Chairman at Derby County who signed Peter in 1988. During all this time Peter played for England in a 20 year duration, 1970-1990 and remains Englands most capped male Footballer with 125 games.He played in 3 World Cups starting with Spain in 1982, the highlight being in 1990 getting to the semi finals. It was in the 1986 World Cup the famous ‘Hand of God’ incident with Diago Maradona happened. Peter shares a joint world record with Fabien Barthez of 10 goals conceded in 17 games !

Plymouth Argyle gave Peter his first and last management job with a three and a half year stay, getting them into the playoffs in only his second season. Peter went onto have a brief spell at the age of 46 playing for Leyton Orient and achieved a record 1005 League games in his 30 year football career. He remains the World record holder as having played a record competitive games of 1,387 matches.

Peter Shilton is still showing the same commitment and dedication in the industry. Peter is regarded as the one of the greatest Goalkeepers in the World winning him numerous honours and awards. Peter was awarded an MBE then an OBE by the Queen and is a global Ambassador for Seattle Sports. Today Peter is a highly respected public speaker known as one of the best after dinner and motivational speaker in the business. He manages a successful consultancy business with his wife Steffi.

Honours & Awards

These are just some of the honours and awards Peter has to his name:

PFA Team of the Century
2007 Awarded in 1977-1976 : 2007

English Football Hall of Fame
2002 FA

1985 Azteca 2000 Tournament runner up
2000

FWA Tribute Award
1991

FIFA World Cup 1990
1990

IOC European Footballer of the Season
1980

League Cup
1979

PFA Player of the year
1978

FA Charity Sheild
1971

European Cup 1978 & 1979

Most capped English Footballer 125 caps record holder

Rous Cup
Winners 1986, 1988, 1989

THE PERFECT PENALTY KICK

Major championships, such as the 2006 FIFA World Cup final and the 2012 UEFA Champions League final have been decided by penalty shootouts. And evidence from World Cup and European Championships has also shown that teams have a considerably greater chance of winning – than drawing or losing – when awarded a penalty within match play.

Research which looked at previous World Cups and European Championship tournaments shows that the successful conversion of a penalty resulted in a 61% increased chance of winning – this decreased substantially to 29% if the penalty was missed. All of which makes the ability to score a penalty kick in a competitive match of critical importance – especially considering the low number of goals scored during a typical game.

Don’t be distracted by the goalie

Kicking a stationary ball from the penalty spot was first introduced in 1902 with the ball situated 12 yards (11 metres) from the goal. In 1997 the kick rules were amended to allow goalkeepers to move sideways along the goal line prior to the ball being kicked.

The importance of this rule change has been highlighted in kicking research – which shows that if the goalkeeper has a greater opportunity to distract the player – think waving arms – it results in a higher percentage of saved penalties. This is particularly the case in situations that provoke higher levels of anxiety for the penalty shooter – like a World Cup deciding penalty kick.

In this sense then, it’s important the kicker isn’t distracted by the goalkeepers tactics when lining up to take a penalty kick – which can take less than 400 milliseconds in flight time to the goal mouth.

Former Polish goalkeeper, Jerzy Dudek, used the distraction strategy very effectively in the 2005 Champion’s League final – he saved two penalties from Andrea Pirlo and Andriy Shevchenko, and distracted Serginho enough for him to strike his effort over the bar.

How to kick

The most important kicking skill in football is the instep kick or the “laces” kick. Here, the player drives using the quadriceps muscles of the thigh to provide the most powerful technique in football.

Because of it’s power, this kick is commonly used for scoring penalties. But research that has focused on instep kicking accuracy, shows that something of a “speed accuracy trade off” occurs.

A classic example of emphasising speed over accuracy was Chris Waddle missing one of England’s penalties in the 1990 World Cup semi-final against West Germany. But it’s also worth noting that placing greater emphasis on accuracy to the detriment of speed can also give the goal keeper enough time to react and save the penalty.

The perfect shot

So with all this in mind, how do you take a penalty like a pro? It all starts with the run up phase, skilled players typically approach the ball at an angle of about 45 degrees (0 degrees being directly behind the ball). This facilitates maximal ball speed.

Approaching the ball at such an angle also helps the player to incline their kicking leg away from the support leg. This is thought to improve the foot-to-ball contact – by enabling the kicking foot to be placed further underneath the ball.

The speed players approach and run up to the ball will be different for each person. This is important, as research has shown that footballers produce their highest ball speeds when using a self-selected speed of approach.

Next up is the backswing phase of the kick. This is crucial for stretching the muscles of the upper and lower body to an optimal length to help generate greater muscle forces. Elite footballers perform this phase of the kick by extending the kicking leg, rotating the torso, and extending the non-kickside shoulder backwards through a large range of motion. This phase is analogous to drawing back the bow in archery.

Now to the forward phase of the kick. Here, the muscles contract rotating the torso and flexing the non-kickside shoulder towards the kicking leg. On top of this, the kicking leg is coordinated in a specific sequence: the hip is flexed first, followed by fast knee extension, resulting in the foot accelerating through to ball contact.

The position and speed of the foot at ball contact determines the quality of the foot-to-ball impact and the resultant ball speed and accuracy. To optimise ball speed in a penalty kick scenario it is important to kick the ball as close to the centre as possible.

What all this shows, is that scoring a penalty kick is no mean feat.

So as you watch the World Cup, keep in mind the level of skill needed to get that penalty on point.

10 BEST MEN’S FOOTBALL BOOTS

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When lads born after the millennium are starting in the Premier League, it’s time to accept that maybe, just maybe, there’s a small chance, you might not be a footballer after all. But the one thing that the everyday man and Messi have in common is that they both wear Adidas Nemeziz boots.

The older we get, the harder it is to daydream about scoring that last minute winner in the FA Cup final, but one thing we do hold on to is being able to emulate our heroes, their footwear at least

Football boots have come on a lot since the days when the game was played by moustached men with hair that wouldn’t look amiss on Game of Thrones.

Nowadays the selection and science involved in football boots is at an all time high, with boots designed to be ultra lightweight to make you swift as the wind, or soft on the bridge so you can control a ball from the sky as if your feet were made of glue.

We’ve rounded up the best boots on the market to give you the best bang for your boot.

Adidas Nemeziz 18+: £222.95, Adidas

We start with what the best of the best wear. Yeah, sure, of course Lionel Messi has his own customised pair – but he is indeed the posterboy of Adidas’ N​emeziz range. These are game changing boots for a game changing player – the highlight of the N​emeziz boot is its laceless construction which allows for greater movement. The agility weave forefoot grants an imperious touch on the ball, while the lightweight Torison Frame outsole – designed to support the midfoot to avoid straining the arch – keeps you explosive on frozen late winter pitches whilst minimising injury.

Nike CR7 Superfly​ 6: £184.97, Nike

Inspired by Cristiano Ronaldo, this ultra-lightweight shoe is perfect for agile wingers. The flyknit upper is designed to wrap your foot like a second skin, allowing you to twist and turn through defences with freedom. The anti-clog sole provides responsive traction on the muddiest of midwinter pitches without compromising on movement. Plus, who isn’t scared of a winger in orange boots?

Adidas Copa Mundial: £219.95, Adidas

A shoe with a special place in history. The Copa boots have been sported by some of the greatest the game has ever seen: from the fleet-footed Zidane​ and golden balls Beckham, to the instinctive Lampard and the Kaiser Franz Beckenbauer. An integrated X-ray vamp cage gives the player ultimate control, for all you midfield generals out there.

Puma One 1: £126, Puma

The Puma one shoe has scored goals in the biggest games, having been donned by the likes of Man City frontman Sergio Agüero. The foam midsole provides advanced cushioning and comfort to keep you running from the first whistle until the last. The shoe is breathable and light with a sock-like feel, while the soft leather upper gives you advanced touch on the ball.

Adidas Predator 19+: £229.95, Adidas

The Predator boot has come a long way since being masterminded by ex-Liverpool player Craig Johnston, this is perhaps its most powerful edition yet. The Controlskin upper will have the sidelines confusing you with Bergkamp and the Purecut laceless sock means there’s no pesky intervention between you and that perfectly clean strike.

 

Nike Phantom Vision: £239.95, Nike

Worn by Belgian maestro Kevin De Bruyne, the Phantom Vision shoe is perfect for the footballer that likes to pivot and play, designed to give you movement and power. The Ghost lace technology is covered with flyknit material in order to give a wider strike zone and in turn maximise your technique. With three loops either side, the fit is easily adjustable and can be as snug as you like.

 

Nike Tiempo Legend VII Elite FG: £189.95, Nike

An iconic boot made iconic by an iconic player – Ronaldinho. The first YouTube video to hit a million views was a Nike advert starring the buck toothed Brazilian and amateur footballers worldwide have sought after his boots ever since. The modern Tiempos have a super soft natural feel due to the use of kangaroo leather and help make your strike clean as a whistle. A great selling point for the Tiempos is that they require next to no breaking in – you can keep those plasters in the cupboard.

 

Puma Future 2.1: £133, Puma

World Cup winning forward Antoine Griezmann has donned these boots for some of his most crucial goals. Smartly placed conical and bladed studs are reactive and offer impressive movement for the nippy forward. The knitted ankle sock fit provides much-needed support for one of the most injury prone areas of the body. To top it all off, there’s a number of bold colourways to make you stand out, even if your play doesn’t.

 

New Balance Tekela Pro: £180, New Balance

Designed with a focus on speed and maneuverability, the Tekela Pro is the New Balance’s most impressive foray into the soccer cleat market yet. The employment of an elasticated mesh collar keeps your foot rigidly in place without being uncomfortable, this gives the player great natural movement. The use of their own Kinetic Stitch technology gives the player great control and precision, acting almost like sandpaper in its grip.

 

Mizuno Morelia Neo II: £208, Pro Direct Soccer

This inclusion will come as no surprise to footballing hipsters, those few that are already aware of the Japanese firm that are only just emerging on European football shores. The cult following is entirely justified with the ultra light leather feeling like a second skin. These boots are ultra durable due to the Scotchgarding during the tanning process. Pick up a pair and be the coolest alternative footballer down at the five a side.

THE ORIGINS OF FOOTBALLS BADGES

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When people talk about football as an art, they are generally referring to the game itself. The language of creative endeavour is often applied to a football match, whether we describe a goal as ‘a masterpiece’, a pass as ‘picture perfect’ or a moment of individual self-expression as a ‘stroke of genius’, as if the player involved were a master painter putting the final touches to some sublime work. Even in referring to football as ‘the beautiful game’, we acknowledge that it has some aesthetic significance above and beyond other sports; that it exists on a higher cultural plane where grace, style and visual elegance are paramount. Still, while a football match may be considered a form of artistic expression in a figurative sense, there is much de facto art in the game that has symbolic meaning which is often ignored.

While classic kit designs, stadium murals and commemorative statuary are all obvious examples of artistry from the world of football, perhaps the most underappreciated art comes in the form of club badges and crests. Though many fans pay little real attention to the badge of an opposing team, there is much to be learnt about a side from the image emblazoned on their shirts. These images are emblematic of the way a football club understands its identity, whether in relation to sporting philosophy, the personality of the fans, history and heritage or links to its local area. Some badges even border on the allegorical, telling a story about the club which serves to illustrate some greater significance to its place in the game.

As well as illustrating how a club and its community perceive themselves, badges show how a club would like to be perceived. They are a form of communication and are intended to evoke an emotional response from opponents and outsiders. This is why, when identifying common themes in the insignia of English football, we most often come across martial, industrial and animal iconography, emblems which not only express a sense of identity but also serve as a warning to others. These are proud and intimidating motifs, designed to catch the eye of a club’s adversaries and give them serious pause for thought.

Among the best club badges in English football – this being a subjective judgement, of course – some of the most striking relate to industry. With so many football clubs originally formed as works teams or created to serve a town with some speciality in manufacturing, there are crests up and down the country which feature factories, chimneys, dockyards and mines. While these are fundamentally mundane in one sense, they are also suggestive of hard work, physical sacrifice and a no-nonsense, sleeves-rolled-up mentality, all of which are traditionally necessary to lump it in the English league system. Basically, not only are industrial motifs emblematic of a football club’s working-class heritage, they also imply that the team and their fans are likely to be hard as nails.

So we come to one of the most eye catching badges in all of England, namely the fist and girder motif of Scunthorpe United. While it may look like something dreamt up by a workers’ council in Petrograd at the height of the Russian Revolution – and certainly appears to be stylistically influenced by Socialist Realism – it was in fact created by a local design student back in the nineties when the town council, whose coat of arms had been used as the previous badge, ended their sponsorship deal with the club. The girder of the current crest represents Scunthorpe’s famous iron and steel industry, while the clenched fist represents unity and strength with all the aplomb of a historical trade union banner. The thunderous motion of the image, clenched fist punching upwards while gripping the giant steel beam tightly, is suggestive of an intense and brawny brand of football, which combined with the Iron’s bold claret and blue colour scheme makes it an absolute belter of a badge.

Though it’s hard to imagine a more working-class club crest than one featuring a sturdy industrial girder, Darlington 1883 of the National League North give Scunthorpe a run for their money. Their badge is, as far as we are aware, the only one in the world to feature both a big ol’ Quaker hat and a steam locomotive, this as a nod to the traditional influence of Quakerism in the town and the historical importance of the railway industry to its inhabitants. Set against a red and white background divided by a pronounced diagonal line, the badge gives mixed messages which are doubtlessly intended to confuse the opposition. On the one hand, there is the inherent peacefulness of the Quakers, and on the other, the terrifying power of the enormous steam train, hurtling towards us with all the implacable strength of the River Tees in full spate.

With a brief nod to Barnsley’s badge which – while aesthetically uninspired and ripped off from the local council – features an actual miner, which has to be worth something in terms of working-class cachet, we now find ourselves looking at industrial badges which spill over thematically into something else. Just as the Darlington crest is a paean to both industry and religion, so the Morecambe badge pays homage to both the local fishing industry and the animal kingdom, with the animal in question a massive marine crustacean with spindly head tendrils. The appropriately named Shrimps adopted their current club crest in 2010, celebrating their move from Christie Park to the Globe Arena with a rebranded logo in place of the town coat of arms. Though shrimps are not widely considered to be lethal animals – when potted, they are in fact a Morecambe Bay delicacy – they nonetheless have creepy little features which, when blown up to club crest proportions, could terrify even the hardiest of League Two footballers.

While Morecambe strike terror into the opposition by sporting an image of a gigantic shrimp, other clubs have gone with animals which are more traditionally associated with fear. So the undeniably brilliant Millwall badge features a variant on the heraldic lion, with the creature leaping forward – claws extended – from the navy blue abyss. Though Millwall were originally a works side born of J.T. Morton’s canning factory on the Isle of Dogs, they couldn’t exactly go for a tin of non-perishables on their badge, and so had to seek out some other emblem. When they were dubbed the ‘Lions of the South’ after a strong run in the FA Cup at the turn of the twentieth century, it suited the team to appropriate the nickname. This in turn led to the lion logo being adopted in the thirties, when it was originally red as opposed to white on blue.

Though Millwall’s leaping lion brings the terror factor – not least as it is now commonly associated with a less metaphorical form of violence from the heyday of English hooliganism – the comparatively serene and thoughtful lion on Salford City’s badge is similarly compelling. There were Salford fans who were not best pleased when the club’s image underwent an overhaul under the ownership of the Class of ’92, but with its hexagonal shape and interpretive design the new badge is, in fairness, considerably more distinctive than its predecessor. While the origins of the Salford logo are ultramodern in this sense, it is not stylistically dissimilar to the wonderfully angular Wolverhampton Wanderers motif, with that other deadly and menacing creature looking comparably thoughtful on the Wolves badge. That said, the Salford City lion looks as if it is pondering something philosophical – like the ethical implications of former Premier League footballers commandeering a local non-league side, say – while the Wolverhampton wolf appears to be thinking solely about devouring its prey with its merciless, menacing, triangular eyes.

The single wolf’s head on the Wolves badge dates back to 1979, before which the crest featured three leaping wolves which were emblazoned on the centre of the club’s home shirts. If the nominal Wolverhampton wolf is one of the most menacing creatures ever to appear on a football shirt, we ought also to identify the least menacing, which is surely the bewildered Herefordshire bull of the fantastic Hereford FC badge, an animal which looks like it has wandered into a football club crest entirely by chance. For some clubs, one fearsome animal is not enough, as is the case with Poole Town who sport two monstrous dolphins on their aesthetically excellent badge. While some might contest the use of the term ‘monstrous’ here, Greek mythology would have it that dolphins are warped and mutated sailors condemned by Poseidon to live in the oceans, which seems pretty horrific really. Whether or not the designers of the Poole Town crest were aware of this is sadly unclear.

For those clubs for whom monstrous animals are not sufficiently intimidating, the last resort is an actual monster. That certainly seems to be the case with Coventry Sphinx, a club which competes in the Midland Premier Division and sports the riddling Egyptian beast on their crest. This ties back into the theme of industry in that the club were originally the works team of Armstrong Siddeley, a British motor company which used the sphinx as a logo and bonnet ornament on their cars. The Coventry Sphinx badge is possibly the most stylish in all the Midlands, though it is naturally run close by the globe, ribbon and ball of Birmingham City, a crest which was chosen through a competition run by the Sports Argus newspaper in the early seventies, and which remains both instantly recognisable and remarkably elegant to this day.

Perhaps the most common monster in football iconography is the wyvern, with a pair of the reptilian beasts adorning the badges of Carlisle United and Leyton Orient. In both cases these are symbolic of their locality, with wyverns taking pride of place on the crest of the City of London and representative of the region of Cumbria, too. It’s hard not to make a wyvern eye catching, to be honest, what with its sinister serpentine body and vaguely satanic visage. It comes second in the devilish stakes only to the malevolent imp on the Lincoln City badge, which was introduced in 1971 in replacement of, that’s right, the municipal coat of arms. The inspiration for the cross-legged demon comes from a grotesque statue on the wall of Lincoln Cathedral, hence providing us with an artwork from the world of football which is a direct imitation of pre-existing art.

Given its belligerent and aggressive connotations, martial imagery on club badges is perhaps the hardest to miss. Barring obvious badges like the famous Arsenal cannon – an emblem which traces its origins back to the Woolwich Arsenal and the munitions workers who gave the club its name – there is the stylised Hellenic helmet of Blyth Spartans, the minimalist raised sword of Charlton Athletic and the heavily armoured gladiator of Matlock Town, which together represent some of the best designed crests in the land. While the Spartan helmet should be self-explanatory and the Charlton sword dates back to the sixties, when the club adopted its ‘Valiants’ nickname, the emergence of the Matlock Town badge is rather more obscure. Indeed, the people of Matlock seems to have little by way of historical links to the Roman Empire, or indeed any particular reputation for making men kill each other in an amphitheatre for their sadistic entertainment.

And as for the most distinctive club badge in all of English football? This accolade must surely go to Hemel Hempstead Town, whose crest is an intricate red outline of infamous wife murderer (and town patron) Henry VIII. As a military man who was also a monster Henry represents something of a thematic mash up, as well as a reminder to opposition supporters that they are in the presence of ruthless footballing royalty, or whatever passes for such in the National League South. The inspiration for the Hemel motif is twofold, in that it draws on the famous portrait of Henry VIII as painted by Hans Holbein the Younger, which one might think would give it enormous artistic merit. Unfortunately, the club badge is actually an imitation of an imitation in the form of a Holbeinesque plaque with Henry VIII’s face on it, long displayed on the front of a council building in Hemel town centre. Does that detract from its cultural significance a tad? Only the residents of Hemel can say.