‘With A Little Help From His Friends’ – Interview with Peter Hooton

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After last week’s fascinating interview with Guillem Balague, I was asked by Lowdown Magazine to interview Peter Hooton, lead singer of The Farm and one of the people behind the Christmas number one single ‘He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother’. Below is the article in full, which will feature in this month’s Lowdown.

Peter Hooton

Peter Hooton was a key figure in organising this year’s Christmas number one, the re-recording of ‘He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother’. The track, originally by The Hollies, features a number of star guest performers, including Robbie Williams, Paul McCartney, Beverley Knight and Paloma Faith. Hooton, famous for his work as lead singer with ‘The Farm’, spoke to us about the moment he found out they had reached number one, how the collaboration first came about and how important it was to produce a fitting memorial to those lost in Hillsborough following the revelations in December.

How did you react when you heard you had reached number one?

We were told to travel down to the Radio One studios a couple of hours before it was officially announced, so we had an inkling. When it was officially announced, we were really pleased, also considering that the organising and planning of it only started in mid-October. So it was unprecedented really. It was because of people helping out who were unpaid, and coming onboard out of the goodness of their hearts. It was good to get a number one instead of the X Factor or other institutions who plan their release nine months in advance. But it wasn’t a celebration as such because of what it was for. Keith out of the band lost one his mates at Hillsborough as well. So instead of a big celebration, we just started hugging each other. When Radio One announced it and we were in the studios, Keith got a bit upset and I got little upset, because of what it really meant to us. I mean to get a number one without any marketing budget is remarkable, because it just shows you ‘people power’ really. We told the press officer though that there was to be no contact with The Sun. Being the biggest selling paper in the country and it usually likes to champion certain causes, they had nothing to do with the single. The biggest selling paper in the country and we banned them from reporting on it! So that was another remarkable thing you know, managing to achieve what we did without needing the biggest newspaper supporting us. To quote Mick Jones “It was one of his proudest moments”. We were sitting in the pub on the Sunday night when we got to number one and he had the official chart banner next to him as he was having a pint saying “We’ve done it. We’ve done it”.

How did the idea to release the single come about?

You see, there was no plan or inkling of what we should do. I spoke with Steve Rotheram (MP) with the idea to release a single in 2009 on the 20th anniversary of Hillsborough. So that really was the beginning of the timeline. He rang me in 2008 and said he’d been in touch with Rick Parry at Liverpool Football Club to see if they’d planned anything special yet for the 20th anniversary. Because he was Lord Mayor at the time he said he wanted to put Hillsborough back on the political agenda because he was in a position to do so. So what he wanted to do first of all was use the power of pop music and make a commemorative record. So we said to do ‘The Fields of Anfield Road’ because there wasn’t a definitive version of it. In the end, that was a massive success for us. We kept it really organic and it ended up selling 50 to 60,000 copies. So I reminded Steve about it and said to try and re-release it for Christmas. In the meantime Everton had done their tribute before the Newcastle game. So when they did that, I said to Steve that that was such a fantastic and iconic tribute, why don’t we re-release ‘He Ain’t Heavy…’, the original Hollies version. This was because it was already October by then, and you just can’t plan to re-record a song, manufacture it, promote it and distribute it in time for Christmas. It’s impossible! But the suggestion was made to re-record it, because if we did, we could get a Liverpool number one. I said to Steve, “what are you talking about? It’s October!” I think October 19th was the first real meeting where we got our management involved. The Farm were playing in Blackburn so we had to send our manager to the meeting, and we were told that we couldn’t release the single in time for Christmas, as it was just impossible. We’d set a date at the end of October to record it, but usually distribution and everything needs to be sorted out six to nine months in advance. But Steve managed to convince them that it was a good idea, and he said to me the next day that we’re going to the trenches with it. He had that natural enthusiasm. Like Bill Shankly used to say “if you’ve got natural enthusiasm, you can do anything”. So we decided that if we can get the right people involved, it could just happen. Maybe not number one, but if we got the right people involved we could at least have a chance at it. The very next day we were on our way to Newcastle to play a gig, and we got a text through from Guy Chambers who said he’d love to get up and play with the Justice Tonight band if they are ever back in London. So with the re-release in mind, Keith rang him up and told him the idea, asking if he was interested. He got back to us almost immediately and told us he was in. And I mean as soon as Guy Chambers is involved, it’s a whole different project, from just doing our best with the re-release, to having Guy Chambers and a list of names he’s worked with over the past years like Robbie Williams, Mel C, Holly Johnson, Rebecca Ferguson. And that’s how we got those people involved. It was only when Guy took control that we started thinking that there’s a possibility here, we’ve got a chance of this going all the way. It was still based on chance and fate really. We went to the studio to start recording, and Guy had arranged to get the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and the LIPA Gospel Choir, and everyone happened to be available. So everything seemed to be fitting into place. Then of course Paul McCartney got involved through one of the guitarists who plays in the Justice Tonight Band. It’s Paul McCartney, so of course his diary must usually be booked up, but he happened to be available too. And another chance meeting was when I went to a Liverpool match and I was asked “Are you going to ask Glen Tilbrook from Squeeze to get involved?” and I said I didn’t even know how I’d get hold of him. He replied “I’ve got his phone number. Here do you want it?”. So it was all mad. These mad chance things. Everything just fell into place. With Guy, how he recorded it, we were wondering how was he going to do it because I loved the original so much. It was a classic, so how could he emulate it?  But he respected the original so much, he even managed to keep the original 60’s tempo, which actually goes slightly out of time. We had Chris Sharrock in as our drummer who had to play along to a click track that went out of time! So it was just amazing how it all came about, you know. It was a journey really from the Justice Tonight band which just kept snowballing, and this was just the logical conclusion. A year or two ago we’d been playing to 800 to 1000 people around the country with the Justice Tonight Band and now we had a Christmas number one. It was fairytale stuff and for what the cause was, it was so important to the families that we got behind it to try and get it to number one.

How did the Justice Tonight Band come about?

We originally did a ‘Don’t Buy The Sun’ concert in September 2011 for the Hillsborough campaign which was also for Jamie McVey, a lad who lost his life in a street attack whose father wanted justice for. His dad wanted a memorial for his lad and asked if we’d play. In the meantime, Billy Bragg had released ‘Scousers Never Buy The Sun’ as a free download. So we thought it would be a great way to have both causes pushed. So we looked to get in touch with some of the people our management have worked with to see if they’d be interested. What you’ve also got to remember is that the News of the World had just shut down, and we wanted News International to swing back towards Hillsborough. All the publicity seemed to be about this hacking stuff and corruption which was current, and we were just thinking that we had this twenty-three years ago. So the idea really came from that. Then we got a call saying Mick Jones wanted to play, and he wanted to do Clash songs. Songs he’d rarely done aside from a few things with Joe Strummer before he passed away. The reason he wanted to them was because he felt it was right to do them because it was about protest and campaigning for justice. So we learnt the songs and The Farm did them along with the rest of the Justice Collective. And that concert was supposed to be one-off. But Mick enjoyed it so much that he said we should take it on the road and use it as a way to campaign for Hillsborough, because at this time the panel was still sitting and we didn’t know what the findings would be. We knew enough about it though to know it was a massive injustice. Mick said that the September 2011 gig was the natural thing for him to do, because he first picked up a guitar at the age of 15 to protest injustices, and now in 2011 he was doing the same.

Are there further plans to tour or record with The Justice Tonight Band?

I’m not so sure. Mick was thinking last year of taking it to America because Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine) wanted to get involved but because of the last few months of 2012 and everything that came out, I think everyone wants a break from it now. I think Mick wants a break and so did we all after the number one, just as a way to reflect really on what came out. There’s no plans to play again at the moment, but I’m not saying that won’t change in the future. There were a few possible projects for us. I think Glastonbury were interested in us playing on one of their stages at one point. But at the moment I can’t see that happening myself.

This week brought the news that all profits made on the single through HMV will definitely be safeguarded. How did you react to this news?

It was great news. Steve Rotheram got in touch with Deloitte and told them that we needed a decision on this quick because this is very important and needs to be prioritised. Deloitte more or less gave him the assurance that the money was protected. It’s not only the money raised, it’s the staff that we were also concerned about, with money being taken when staff members still haven’t been paid. For example, HMV stores in Ireland, a lot of their staff haven’t been paid. I think it was 16 stores. But I think they’ve now been promised they will be back paid too. So everything’s turned out well now. The 50,000 singles that HMV sold were around about a sixth of total sales, but because they were £2 in store, it was a significant amount of money. The money we’ve raised will be put into a trust fund and administered hopefully by the Bishops of Liverpool, and the families will be able to use the money for any future costs. The inquests are paid by the government, but if they’re held in Rotherham, Yorkshire or Doncaster or places like that, the family members have to pay to get over there. I know that a few had to take out loans and second mortgages because they had to travel to Sheffield every day for the inquests. So it’s worked out great that this money has been safeguarded for that.

Guillem Balague – Interview

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Guillem Balague is a Spanish football pundit and writer, who has become the recognisable face of La Liga reporting in the UK. Ranging from his work with a number of British papers to his regular appearances on numerous Sky Sports programmes (including Revista De La Liga and his recent Magic of Messi documentary) he is the ever present expert when it comes to the Spanish league. He has now written a biography on Pep Guardiola, Another Way of Winning, which explores one of Barcelona’s greatest ever managers, including his unprecedented haul of fourteen trophies during a remarkable four season tenure. I caught up with Guillem to discuss his new book, as well as his views on Messi, Mourinho and why football fans shouldn’t expect fireworks during the January transfer window.

What made you interested in writing a book on Pep Guardiola?

I wrote a book on Liverpool called ‘A Season on the Brink’ and Orion who were the publishers had been looking for an idea to work on again together. I suggested some but they weren’t sure and then they came up with this idea of the Pep Guardiola book. I said ‘Yes but only if I can talk to him’ but knowing that he wasn’t talking to anybody. So that was the first challenge. But once he allowed me to talk to him and he opened the doors to the changing rooms and sent an e-mail to Ferguson to talk to me then it was a project I obviously wanted to be involved in.

How long did the biography take you to put together?

Twenty years! You don’t get to talk to Pep Guardiola or any of the players when they are not talking to anybody unless you have twenty years of a professional life which is respected and within which they can trust you. So in terms of how you get there, you don’t get there without those twenty years. In terms of the book I started in January last year and started doing interviews until May or so. Then I started writing it for about two months. Once you’ve got all the conversations that have taken place, then it’s just a matter of putting it altogether in a kind of always thinking, in my case anyway, that it is a novel rather than just a biography, with a bit of tension and creating an interesting character, including his strengths and weaknesses, his ying and yang. I don’t know if that came out in the book but that was my intention anyway.

The book opens with a foreword from Sir Alex Ferguson, a manager who some believe to be a contender for greatest of all time. How did this conversation come about?

I obviously wanted to speak with Sir Alex considering he had been in two Champions League finals in Barcelona and I sent an e-mail to Manchester United, who originally never replied. When talking to Pep I said ‘I’d love to talk to Sir Alex’ and he didn’t say anything at the time. The next day I got a call from Ferguson’s secretary saying ‘Do you want to come to Manchester to talk to Sir Alex’ and I’m like ‘Yeah! What happened then?’ and it was because Pep had sent an e-mail saying to Ferguson to get in touch if he wanted to talk to me because he had been more than happy to do so. So I am eternally grateful to both for the opportunity. So I went to the meeting and I was delayed by 45 minutes! But he was in a very good mood. Apparantly everyone was late on that day, including his players because of a traffic problem. So we had a 45 minute talk where it was pretty clear the admiration that Sir Alex had towards Pep. I’ve had interviews before with Ferguson and to me they were some of the best times of my career. The guy makes you feel so comfortable and nonchalant and he’s such a good talker that it really was a privilege.

Would you rate Guardiola amongst the greatest managers in the world, or do you feel he still has more to prove with other clubs first?

I don’t know if there are any other managers in the world who have got 14 titles after 19 months in charge. None. None in the history of the world. Not even close to that. Yes it was with one club but there’s the fact that Ferguson has been at Man Utd for 26 years having won things with Aberdeen. But had he only done the 26 years with Man Utd would people say ‘Ah but could he do it with a different team?’. It also seems to be a different analysis when it’s a manager outside of the Premier League. In the EPL, if you do really, really well you are considered one of the best in the world, but people like Messi as a player, or Guardiola as a manager, have to test themselves in the Romanian League or something to prove that they are the best. Pep has changed football. I wouldn’t enter the equation for who is the best in the world because I’m not interested in that but he has definitely changed football, in the same way that managers like (Louis) van Gaal, (Johan) Cruyff, (Rinus) Michels changed football. It means that you are on the olympus of football no doubt about it.

Where does Guardiola go from here?

Well, he will go to a club who can win things straightaway. He would want a squad with quality players who can win things but also to play the way that he wants. A club if he can in the Premier League. A club where he feels the infrastructure is right not to just win one year but to keep winning. There are not many clubs like that and everybody knows which clubs it could be.  Everybody wants to know the name of the club but I can guarantee he hasn’t got anything agreed with anybody. We’ll just have to wait.

Times seem very good at the Barcelona at the moment, with the team still unbeaten in the league and Messi making worldwide headlines again after breaking the goalscoring record last year. Would you agree with the suggestion that their success thus far with Vilanova is because he has inherited a fantastic squad and has been more of a caretaker to them?

I think the foundations were put there a long time ago but Guardiola took it to a whole new level. What Tito is doing is continuing that work.  I think it was good that Guardiola left because they had got a little bit stuck. There was so much pressure on him and he had used as much of his own personal resources as he could. He was lacking energy and there were still some big decisions which needed to be taken. All in all it was best that they parted company and somebody else continued the job and Tito has done that. He has helped give Barcelona new levels but based on the foundations that Pep put into the team.

Barcelona have a number of one-club players within their team. Messi signing a lengthy new contract, and Xavi and Puyol recently signed deals to ensure they stay at the Nou Camp until the end of their careers. The possibility is that Barcelona may soon become a one-club team, with all players rising through La Masia and staying with the club throughout their career. Do you believe this is possible?

I don’t think that has ever been the target but you can appreciate when it happens and you have to celebrate it. It was a dream put forward by Van Gaal where he said he’d like to win the Champions League with an all La Masia team. But I don’t think that was ever a target. La Masia certainly adds DNA to the club and to the players which is important for many reasons. The style, the philosophy on the pitch but also because it continues a way of doing and behaving throughout the generations. But what players like Abidal, Keita or Alexis can add may not always be able to be found in La Masia. A brand of player like a tough centre back. Despite Puyol coming from La Masia, they are yet to find a homegrown replacement for him. It’s that mixture of what players from La Masia and outside of it can give you which has always been embraced so I don’t think that’s a target at all but it is definitely to be complimented.

A main talking point in La Liga at the moment comes from one of Barcelona’s rivals, Real Madrid, and the drama between Jose Mourinho and some of his players. Do you think Mourinho has effectively ended any chance of staying with the club for the future? Where do you see him going to?

I don’t think he wants to be manager for a long time anyway and its quite clear his management methods work and are effective but are rather out of date. He wants everybody at the club like the directors, the media, the players and staff to be on their toes constantly and under pressure. I think they’ve reached that point of no return where now it’s either change the squad or change the manager. They may stay together until the end of the season but after that it doesn’t make sense for the whole thing to continue. We’ll have to see where he goes. There’s going to be the inevitable domino effect at the end of the season so we’ll have to see. PSG is a possibility. Some people talk about Chelsea, or City or even Inter he might return to. It just depends on the results of each manager.

Who were some of your favourite players growing up?

Gabino, former Betis and Espanyol. He was a lovely lovely player. A dribbler who was magic. Magic. And who also played for my team of course (Espanyol). And Zidane and Messi would of course be the other ones.

You recently presented ‘The Magic of Messi’ on Sky Sports, a look at Messi’s remarkable career so far, including a look at his record-breaking 2012. Is Messi the best player in the world today? Is he greatest of all time?

He’s the best in the world and one thing that actually surprised us during that show was just how marvellous he actually is. I mean, we look at him every week and every week he seems to break a record and we have to highlight each one. But putting it altogether was like ‘Oh my god! Come on!’. The man is like a joke. Some things that players don’t do in their entire career he has managed to do in twelve months. It was great from that point of view. And is he the best ever? Every era brings up that discussion I suppose, but what’s quite clear is that it has never been harder to be a top player, because teams are more physical and there are more tactics. But he has shown that he can consistently beat everybody, except for on the international stage. Now I don’t think anyone in the world has done that recently but there is an argument to be made that Maradona is the greatest. I think Maradona was more of a complete player than Messi is. Maradona had a 50 meter accurate pass which I don’t think Messi has, but maybe that is because he doesn’t need to have it. Both are electric in their pace but Maradona added more to it. We’re getting there though with Messi. It’s still early days and we should wait until the end of his career to decide but if there was to be one it would be between those two.

And finally the January transfer window has opened up. Do you have any predictions for any big signings you can see happening this month?

There’s not much money available. Big clubs have decided it’s not time to make changes. There will be a lot of big no’s. Villa won’t go. Negredo won’t go. There will just be smaller transfers this month I think. Club’s in La Liga like Espanyol or Betis may sell if bids come in because they need the money, but nothing will be major.

The Lonesome Fan and the Fall of Serie A

When Arrigo Brovedani took the 500km trip to watch his beloved Udinese play Sampdoria in Italy’s Serie A, he surely had no idea that he would make headlines across the footballing world. For Brovedani, his 500km cross-country trip, which took him around five-hours, coincided with a business meeting he had already set-up within the area, giving him a perfect opportunity to watch his team in action.

He arrived at the stadium hoping for a great performance from Di Natale & co, but found himself as the centre of attention. The reason? Arrigo Brovedani was the sole Udinese supporter at the game.

“Once I got to the ground I discovered that I was the only [Udinese] fan there. At that point the stewards asked if I wanted to sit in the main stand, but I insisted on going in the away end, seeing as I had paid for that ticket.” said Brovedani.

Brovedani’s appearance was met with respect from Sampdoria, whose fans and club officials offered a more welcoming atmosphere than what is expected for a modern opposition supporter.

“The stewards offered me a coffee, then the directors from Samp’s marketing department came over to ‘my’ end to give me a little present.” The gift was a match shirt worn by one of Sampdoria’s players.

Brovedani’s story is one of innocent support, yet brings up one obviously worrying question: how could this happen in Serie A?

The league, which has once seen legends such as Zidane (Juventus), van Basten (Milan) and Matthaus (Inter) grace its fields, is suffering a very public period of decline. La Repubblica, Italy’s premier daily newspaper, published the damning facts on how poor the Italian league is faring in comparison to its worldwide counterparts. Serie A currently attracts an average crowd of 20,732, with 48.1% of stadium capacity being filled. This is compared to the Bundesliga (42,257/86.1%) and the Premier League (35,753/94.6%). Italian fans are just not turning out for their clubs, and the figure is also in decline (with a 7.8% drop this year in attendance).

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The finger has been pointed towards a number of contributing factors. The hooligan tag has been attached to the league for a number of years, and has discouraged families and first-time goers from attending games. To combat this, the government implemented a scheme called the tessera del tifoso during the 2009/10 season. Fans need a card to purchase Serie A tickets, which identifies the specific club that they support as well as their personal details. The scheme has garnered widespread criticism amongst Italian supporters upon its introduction and in the years since, and it seems that the tessera has in fact done more harm to attendances than good. Confusion over how a fan can be turned down for a card (including whether a general criminal offence will mean a disqualification from attending games), as well as the fact that the card does nothing to address the issue of football violence outside of the stadium on match day, has led to fans voicing their opposition. Supporters who are against the scheme are increasingly more willing to miss out on watching their team than signing up to the tessera. There is of course the occasional unique case, such as Mr. Brovedani, who Sampdoria were only happy to oblige with selling a ticket to due to his lonesome support offering little in the way of potential hooliganism.

Calciopoli, the 2006 scandal implicating a number of Italian clubs, has also had obvious negative implications on the league’s reputation. Disillusioned fans, who back in the 90’s were enjoying watching the world’s biggest and most exciting league, were now sobering up to the idea of having a division in turmoil. The scandal reached the very top of the once dominant league, with Serie A record title holders Juventus (amongst others) being implicated on rigging games through the selection of favourable referees. It was because of this huge black spot on the Italian division that Italy were never seen as a realistic choice for the 2008 European Championships, a tournament they made an official bid to host.

And more recently, AC Milan, the world’s joint most successful football club in terms of internationally won trophies, have now found themselves losing their marquee player Zlatan Ibrahimovic, as well as Thiago Silva, to free-spending PSG in the summer. Even the most ardent Rossoneri fan would see their loss as a weakening of Milan’s crowd-drawing ability. Ibrahimovic, a world-renowned brand within football, no longer wears the black and red of Milan, and may contribute to a further decline in attendances to Milan, and even Italian, fixtures.

So Brovedani’s story may represent the true fan who supports his club regardless of circumstance, but the real ramification is that we have another indication on how far Serie A seems to have fallen, and how without a serious u-turn, the figures may lead to the league becoming a shadow of its former glory days.

The 12 Days of Toffees

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In keeping with the season, relax with a mince pie (or four) with this month’s special Christmas-themed article.

’12 – Shades of Blue': The title of Everton’s calendar released in aid of the club’s official charity, ‘Everton in the Community’. The cheeky calendar features a number of Everton stars, including Tim Howard and Kevin Mirallas, who stripped off for the charity’s 25th anniversary.

11 – Despite Everton’s dramatic 2-1 victory over Tottenham, the Toffee’s extended their stretch of league games without a clean sheet to eleven. Although taking the plaudits for challenging the top four positions into the Christmas period, their consistent conceding of goals could prove a major hurdle if their goals begin to dry up.

10 – Years as Everton manager that David Moyes celebrated back in March. After an initial few years of inconsistency (which included a 17th place finish followed by 4th the year after), Moyes has steered the club to at least a top-eight finish for the past six seasons.

9 – This classic centre-forward’s shirt number, worn by former Everton legends such as Dixie Dean and Graeme Sharp, is currently vacant at Goodison. There is a case for Jelavic to be given the honour of wearing the famous number after his clinical finishing for the Blue’s last season, but it remains to be seen if he will be the choice to inherit the honour.

8 – The amount of games Everton have drawn this season, the most in the league. Although the Toffee’s are currently snapping at the heels of the Premier League’s elite, slip-ups at various points of the season have meant that draws have had to be accepted when maximum points were well within Everton’s grasp.

7 –  Years since Everton last made an appearance in the Champions League qualifying round, where they were eliminated by Villarreal. Their fourth placed finish the previous season had given them the opportunity to battle with other clubs for a place in the group stages of the prestigious European tournament. Although unsuccessful in their pursuit in 2005 (Everton fans need little reminding of Duncan Ferguson’s disallowed ‘goal’ by Pierluigi Collina), the Toffee’s are pushing for another chance in the tournament through a Premier League top four finish.

6 – Total number of senior appearances Ross Barkley has made for the Toffee’s. The Everton academy, a resource even more important for a squad with a limited transfer budget, has helped nurture a number of Premier League players, and Barkley has been tipped as being a definite future star from the youth set-up at Finch Farm. Barkley’s progress in Everton’s under-21 squad has helped to develop a buzz around the nineteen year old, putting him in pole position to inherit the ‘rising-star’ title adorned by successful youth-developed Everton players of recent years (Rodwell, Rooney and Osman amongst others). Along with Fellaini’s increased utilisation in a more advanced role, and with Mirallas, Gibson and Neville all picking up various injuries and niggles this season, there is a growing opportunity for Barkley to build upon his six senior appearances.

5 – Transfer fee of striker Nikica Jelavic in millions of pounds. Last season, the Croatian forward ended the campaign as Everton’s top scorer, despite only joining the club in the January transfer window. Fans will be hoping that Jelavic can re-capture this blistering form in the new year.

4 – Everton’s highest finishing position during David Moyes’ era, and one which the Toffee’s have a not-so unbelievable chance of achieving again this season. Phil Jagielka this month has summarised how the top four is becoming much more open, and considering Everton’s far from traditional opening start to the season, the potential is there for the Toffee’s to be well within the mix on the home straight.

3 – Number of LMA Manager of the Year awards David Moyes has received, matched only by Sir Alex Ferguson. Notably, these awards have spanned his entire tenure at Goodison, with his first award coming after his opening season with the Toffee’s, and his most recent being achieved in Everton’s 2008-09 season, where Moyes managed to guide the team to the FA Cup final.

2 – Fellaini’s position in the official Premier League player performance index after fifteen games, beaten only by Manchester United’s Robin Van Persie. The Belgian’s success has included eight goals, a haul which is already more than double his entire tally for last season.

1 – The number of games this season in which Everton have failed to score. This league record is only matched by Tottenham. It was no surprise then that both teams managed to find the net when the teams played each other at the beginning of December (albeit with Everton waiting to the final minute to do so).

Follow me on Twitter at @liamanewman

United vs City: Who has the best strike force?

The fallout from yet another classic Manchester derby is bound to run on through the next few weeks, with long-term ramifications such as the arrested ‘fans’ and discussions of how to curtail the uglier parts of the beautiful game. Keeping a firm eye on the football, and not these unfortunate distractions led me to exploring an interesting debate: which of the Manchester clubs has the better four-man strike force?

This debate was mentioned on this week’s Soccer Saturday, nestled within the three-hour pre-match fluff pieces which tend to have a more relaxed look at some of football’s interesting topics. The fact that each team has a selection of four strikers who are each in their own right considered as strong additions within this discussion already demonstrates the strength in depth that both United and City have. All football fans can recognise the attacking quality available to the Premier League’s top two clubs and even the most die hard of Manchester fans, whether they be sky-blue or pillar-box red, can see the striking prowess each team have.

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Looking at the stats of the United strikers, it is clear to see how clinical Van Persie has been in-front of goal. His return is almost double that of his closest teammate, a further irritant to rivals City, who had their summer offer for the Dutchman rejected. Coupled with Rooney, the two strikers have also shared eleven assists between them.

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In comparison, City’s stats show a much more even goal return for their top strikers, with Tevez (7), Dzeko (6) and Aguero (5) all chipping in with a similar amount of goals. What is more interesting, however, is the importance of Tevez in scoring and setting up goals for his teammates. He leads both the goals scored and assists chart for City, re-affirming his position as one of City’s more potent attacking threats when utilised by Mancini.

On the other side of the spectrum is Mario Balotelli. It may seem like I am pandering to the current majority opinion regarding Balotelli’s poor attitude having too much of a negative impact on his game, but in this case, the popular viewpoint is one that seems to be true. Balotelli’s single goal and zero assists in the EPL is far from the return wanted from a striker in a team targeting domestic glory.

So, the question is: Rooney/Van Persie/Hernandez/Welbeck or Tevez/Aguero/Balotelli/Dzeko. Who would you rather have as your four-man strike force?

SWOT Analysis of Missguided (and their digital marketing strategy)

Missguided SWOT

Missguided are a UK based women’s fashion e-tailer, currently operating within an online shopping environment which is itself enjoying a period of continuing growth. British consumers spent more money online than any other European country in 2011, topping £50billion (which is up 11% on the previous year). According to Forrester, around 28 million UK consumers shop online, and this figure is forecasted to reach 37 million by 2014. To be successful in the online environment, Missguided must strive to have a strong digital presence in this expanding sector.

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Strengths

Clearly defined target audience

Throughout Missguided’s website and accompanying social media platforms, it is clear that Missguided has a focus on a target audience who are interested in celebrity inspired fashion at high street prices within a young (16-30) female demographic.

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The Celebrity inspired part of the target audience are engaged with through the ‘Shop by Celebrity Style’ filtering option, allowing shoppers to search for a particular celebrity whose style they like, and finding affordable versions through Missguided.

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16-30 demographic = Choice of models/fashion styles and communication style on the website and social media pages.

And in regards to high street prices, sale items range from £3.99 – £54.99, and full price items range from £2.99 – £78.99.

Consistently and successfully focusing on a specific target audience will allow for trust to be built between the merchant and potential buyers. This would establish a relationship for the future, as buyers within Missguided’s demographic would naturally associate the company with on-trend, fashionable products that they would be interested in when they are looking for products in the future.

Strong social media identity

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Missguided have, and are currently enjoying, a fast rate of growth, during a period of economic recession and within a heavily competitive industry. A key reason for this has been the successful use of social media, which has helped the company gain new online followers and to also ensure those followers are engaged enough to repeatedly return. Social Media has a vast potential market to tap into, and this is coupled with practically zero costs to advertise, as the company can directly engage with and advertise to followers, instead of paying for traditional print or television ads. According to a recent survey by Comscore, young females are also the fastest growing demographic in social media engagement.

dailywinUse of incentives to encourage new followers for social media pages has been repeatedly utilised by Missguided. One previous incentive was the issuing of a 10% discount at the checkout if a shopper followed the prompt to ‘like’ their Facebook page. Missguided are currently running a ‘Daily Win’ competition on their Facebook page, encouraging people to vote on their favourite item in exchange for being entered into a daily prize draw. A person must first like the page before being able to enter and if they are unsuccessful in the draw, they are then invited to enter again the next day, giving them a clear incentive to stay as a fan of the Missguided page, and to return to it repeatedly.

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Obtaining followers is only part of social media’s use for an e-tailer. Retaining the audience is also important, as the followers could be advertised to in the future as well as working as a channel to gain more followers (for example if they were to share the page with their friends). The retention of audience is only possible if the content produced successfully engages the audience, giving them an incentive to stay as a follower of Missguided and to view the content they are showing. As well as having competitions open to all fans (whether they are new or not) Missguided also regularly updates across a variety of social media networks, with posts specific to the target audience they are trying to engage.

Weaknesses

High Visibility of Negative Feedback

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When viewing Missguided’s official Facebook and Twitter pages, it is clear to see a high proportion of negative posts (ranging from technical website difficulties to transaction errors). In regards to growth, such feedback would severely damage how a company could build trust with potential customers, especially in an online environment where the personal face-to-face interaction of retail is replaced with an online checkout.

As a company expands like Missguided, the sheer volume of sales would of course mean that negative feedback is bound to occur on some occasions, through unforeseen issues which can sometimes be unpreventable. At present, Missguided’s official Twitter feed, a key part of their social media marketing, is looking more like a customer query department, with most tweets replies to people asking about their product.

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What can be ammended is put a limit on the high visibility of such negative feedback, whilst still dealing with customer queries privately (through Twitter/Facebook’s messaging system or via e-mail). Running a separate social media page purely for customer queries and complaints frees up the official pages to focus on posting positive tweets and engaging content, whilst limiting the visibility of negative feedback.

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ASOS run a similar page called ‘Here to Help’. The Here to Help feed does not show direct interaction with customer complaints or queries, indicating that they are replying to customers privately, but they publicly retweet positive customer service reviews that the company has received. This not only allows their official, more popular Twitter page to focus on brand advertising, but also helps build a positive image of the company’s customer service, considering that their ‘Here to Help’ feed only shows positive interactions.

Negative SE Exposure

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Google is by a substantial distance the most popular worldwide search engine, holding approximately an 89% share of the search engine market. Therefore, if potential customers are using Google to search for your company, it is of great importance that Missguided establish a positive identity on the search engine.

Picture5A Google search of ‘Missguided’ brings up a variety of results. This recent screenshot shows the official Missguided website, but also a completely unrelated television series and, more worryingly, a customer review site showing the company as having a one-star review. An issue obviously needing to be addressed internally, but in regards to exposure, this is damaging to the company for anyone searching for them.

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This is in comparison to one of Missguided’s direct competitiors. A Google search of Boohoo brings up a list of results which are all direct links to different areas of the official Boohoo site, ensuring all front page Google results would bring traffic to their website.

Solution is to put a bigger emphasis on SEO, to make sure that search results for Missguided will bring up links directly to their site, improving traffic and at the same time avoiding negative exposure.

Opportunities

Offline events to encourage online traffic

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Launch parties and other offline events could be utilised to help drive more people towards the brand. Similar to retail events (such as ‘Student Nights’), Missguided could provide a themed night in conjunction with a new season’s collection. Boohoo.com recently utilised this in Manchester, garnering media interest by including an appearance by Mark from The Only Way is Essex. Although the negative to this option is the fees incurred in organising such an event and ensuring a celebrity appearance, the exposure from the event and the free publicity within the media could prove to be positive in garnering extra sales and company exposure on a national scale.

missguidedregionalCurrent trends indicate that Missguided are searched for most from Northern regions in the UK. Offline events like launch parties could be organised to take place in areas where regional interest is extremely high to capitalise on popularity. Another way to look at it would be to identify important regions where Missguided are currently not trending as much, and not having as many orders through from, and using regionally-targeted events to maybe gain more of a foothold in that area. For example, London is an incredibly important region for online shopping. According to a recent survey, London’s online fashion spend is growing, with an 11% increase on last year. The survey goes on to reveal that 30% of all London consumers have made an online fashion purchase in the first half of 2012. This indicates that there is a growing interest in online fashion within this region, and it should be considered as an area to work on gaining exposure in.

Utilising smaller boutiques/labels within Missguided

The way this opportunity would work is to have a separate section dealing with smaller boutiques and independent sellers, who would be able to sell their products through the Missguided site and pay a commission for any sales made.. This opportunity is likely to gain consistent interest because smaller boutiques will want their labels to get noticed, and individuals who want to sell items will have the chance to do so on a platform where the audience is specifically fashion-based (rather than listing on general seller sites such as eBay). This method could also have the secondary benefit of allowing Missguided to track potentially successful re-emerging trends based on their popularity in the marketplace.

This separate section would give sellers full responsibility for all aspects of their advert (including photography), lessening the time-investment needed from Missguided themselves. This performance-based model is also low in risk. If the boutique or seller is popular, Missgided would gain a higher total commission fee. If they’re not popular then it is the boutique themselves which would fall in popularity, allowing for the next seller to rise.

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Asos have ‘marketplace’, which allows smaller boutiques or individuals to sell and showcase their little known brands through the website, or selling second-hand ‘vintage’ items. Last year, they posted figures which indicated a 690% rise in sales through their marketplace, which is obviously attributed to the fact that if more people are aware of the site, then ASOS would gradually gain a higher fee from the increasing volume of sales.

The key to this opportunity would be to ensure enough buyers were using the service, so that independent  sellers and boutiques would be interested in repeatedly selling on it because of how popular it is. As this particular model is being utilised by competitive e-tailers, it is imperative to insure that enough buyers would use this service to encourage boutiques to invest in selling on there, and not on rival sites.

This model then could be implemented when Missguided has substantially grown its brand, and in partnership with social media advertisement and potentially a trial period to gauge interest.

Preview Alternatives

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E-tailers have the unavoidable issue of customers not being able to try on clothes for themselves whilst browsing on the company’s website, in comparison with a traditional retail shop. To counter this problem, e-tailers must try to incorporate ways to inform potential customers as much as possible of what exactly the item they are interested in is like. A function present extensively on ASOS is the ‘video catwalk’, which works as an addition to the traditional model pictures. This allows the viewer a better insight into how the product will look, giving more reassurance to online customers who are unable to physically try on the item for themselves.

This leads on to the potential opportunity of utilising more advanced technology, such as augmented reality, which could allow shoppers to digitally ‘wear’ the item on screen, giving them a preview of how it will look on despite not having a physical version of it. This technology has already been utilised with Skullcandy’s ‘Virtual Room’, which allowed browsers the ability to try on the Aviator headphones digitally.

As well as providing users the chance to get as close of an idea of what they’d look like wearing the headphones without having to physically go and try them on, the quirky application also gave Skullcandy a sharp rise in sales of its Aviator headphones, owing to its high shareability as a ‘fun’ application, alongside its primary function as a previewing tool.
Potentially could be used in fashion e-tail, with users only needing a webcam to create a digital preview, providing Missguided had the software in place on their website. Even if the use is only moderately successful, its utilisation would surely gain the site more exposure for its distinctive take on the issue of how to judge whether you want to buy an item you cannot physically try out yourself.

Social Media Expansion

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The use of social media for fashion outlets has vast potential. This can be seen when looking at the engagement figures for some of the more established companies such as H&M, Topshop, ASOS and New Look. What must be recognised is that consumers are not exclusive to one shop, and could be fans of many different outlets. The popularity of an competitior’s social media site is not a sign of lost custom, but an indication of the potential market that can also be tapped into. If they are fans of one, they could be fans of Missguided too. With Missguided being voted the 12th best loved digital brand by analytical company ‘Tamar’, and also the fastest growing out of the top 25, the potential is very much there for the millions of online fashion fans to be tapped into in the upcoming future, if Missguided continue their focus on social media engagement.

Further Expansion of Affiliate Marketing

Missguided could expand its current Affiliate Marketing program to capitalise on it’s low risk model in return for the potential increase in sales. The pay-for-performance model of affiliate marketing means that Missguided would only need to pay a set percentage fee (currently at 6%) for any sales generated from the advertiser’s site.

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With online fashion, the potential for affiliates is very strong, considering the industry’s popularity online and the large number of independent fashion bloggers. Missguided could put a larger focus on utilising this potential resource of extra sales by advertising on their social media channels for new bloggers to join their affiliate program, and post ‘looks’ within their personal posts (building an outfit from a number of Missguided products). The strength of using ‘looks’ and entire outfits by affiliates is that in just one image of an outfit made up of a combination of Missguided products, a blogger can present a number of affiliate links (one for the top, one for the shorts, one for the necklace etc)

Affiliate-only competitions could be run , which could offer affiliates the chance to win a prize if they hit a particular sales target. The cost of the prize (for example a Missguided voucher or a particular outfit) could be negated by the potential for a spike in sales, with affiliates pushing to make sure they achieve the highest sales for the week (and thus bringing in more revenue for Missguided)

Threats

Global Competition

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Selling exclusively through the internet can be a double-edged sword – of course, internet selling opens up the site to a potentially worldwide customer database (considering shoppers can order from anywhere in the world and have it shipped instead of having to physically be present in a retail shop) but it also means that the number of possible competitors is extremely higher (as they could spring up from any country and still take local custom).

Established retailers putting more emphasis on their e-commerce

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Established retailers such as H+M have begun to heavily invest in their e-commerce, owing to its growth over the past few years. This is a major threat to purely e-tail sites such as Missguided, as established retailers have already gained substantial brand exposure and a high market share.

Consumer Ability to shift to a substitute product

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Missguided’s target demographic is one which is shared (or at least incorporated to some degree) by a number of competitors. Boohoo have their own ‘Get the Look’ section, offering browsers the ability to view celeb styles and Boohoo’s counterparts. With countless number of celebrities, and with numerous media shots emerging daily of different outfits they are wearing, it is impossible for a fashion e-tailer website to keep up with all of them, and must carefully select the styles they want to re-create. A customer may have more interest in a celebrity that a competitor is featuring in their collection, and could decide to use their site instead.

Everton: The Month That Was (November)

Everton’s first game since last month’s edition of Lowdown was the always electric Merseyside derby. With Liverpool sitting in the bottom half of the league, and Everton coming into the fixture on the back of a five match unbeaten run, there was a justified sense of optimism regarding Everton’s chances. Inevitably, the game was a controversial affair, in no small part due to one Luis Suarez. Taking the spotlight once again, the Uruguayan played a key role in Liverpool’s opening goal, before scoring their second. Following his goal, Suarez celebrated with a theatrical dive in front of Everton’s dugout, a reference to Moyes’ pre-game suggestion that the striker goes to ground too often and easily. Despite the initial setback, the Toffee’s regrouped and pulled two goals back before half-time,  through Osman and the impressive addition Steven Naismith. After an explosively attacking first-half, the two Merseyside clubs failed to find the net at either end during the second period until stoppage time, when a Suarez goal was incorrectly judged as being offside.

A trip to Craven Cottage was next up on Everton’s calendar, and this result best represents why my positive evaluation of Everton’s season thus far is coupled with a hint of disappointment at potential points dropped. The Toffee’s dominated the fixture  in chances created and possession of the ball, yet found themselves behind after a Bryan Ruiz free-kick was turned into the net by Tim Howard. Everton responded in the second half with two goals from the yet again sublime Fellaini (more on him later) and the Blues had seemingly capitalised on their dominant display. However, Steve Sidwell rescued an unlikely point for the Cottagers with a last minute goal, forcing Everton into accepting a fourth draw in a row. On the basis of play in this game, Everton fans must be disappointed to have only walked away with a point from this fixture. This doesn’t come from an undermining of Fulham’s team, as I feel they have established a strong squad this season which could cause a lot of problems in the league. What this stems from is the fact that optimistic Toffee’s have suggested that this may be the season where Everton tread the elite Champion’s League boards again, and if that is to be the case, dominant displays such as the one at Fulham must be taken advantage of. Moyes himself summed this up following the draw, telling BBC Sport: “I’m really frustrated because if I really want to hang on to the boys at the top, I need to win these games when they come along.”

Following Everton’s 2-2 draw against Fulham, Moyes reached the ten game milestone he had suggested in August where a judgement could begin to be made on this season’s performance. As well as sitting in fourth position, the Toffee’s also had the positive record of scoring in all but one of their games, averaging just under two goals per game. Far from the lack of firepower which has eluded Everton in recent seasons, results suggested that the Blue’s had found a scoring formula for the opening ten fixtures. Goals scored however, regardless of how impressive, only tells one half of the story. In the run-up to Moyes’ milestone, Everton registered four draws out of four, despite scoring seven goals. So, as greedy as it may sound coming from an Everton fan enjoying the occupation of a Champion’s League spot, there is the question of ‘what could have been?’ had Everton picked up maximum points when they were within grasp.

Everton returned to Goodison for the first time since the Merseyside derby, and for the sixth straight Premier League game, found themselves conceding first, this time to an Adam Johnson strike for visitor’s Sunderland. Again, Everton dominated the fixture and managed to strike twice for the lead, but unlike their previous result, managed to hang on for the three points. Fellaini was yet again involved in both of Everton’s goals, scoring the first before majestically setting up Jelavic three minutes later.

Everton’s next fixture was away at the Madjeski Stadium, playing a struggling Reading who had yet to chalk up a win in this campaign. Naismith broke Everton’s unenviable six game run of falling behind in every Premier League match, by forcing the ball into the net after ten minutes. The first half played out as expected when looking at Everton’s recent form, with the Toffee’s dominating yet unable to capitalise further on a collection of chances. The squandering of a number of gilt-edged opportunities came back to haunt Everton, with two goals from Adam Le Fondre (one from the penalty spot after a sloppy challenge by Seamus Coleman) handing defeat to the Toffee’s against a side who had until then been unable to register a win this season.

Away from the Premier League, Leon Osman managed to achieve his first England call-up (and a starting position) in England’s international friendly against Sweden. At 31, the midfielder may not represent the long term future of the national side, yet if his club performances have warranted a place, then he has every right to be offered the honour of representing his country. So a huge congratulations to Leon, and the best of luck for his international career.

Also developing this past month at Goodison was the continued success of Marouane Fellaini in Everton’s midfield. Alongside the Belgian’s much deserved plaudits comes the growing rumours of his departure, stemming from his consistency in creating attack after attack for Everton from seemingly nothing. Fellaini himself has acknowledged that his performances have alerted a number of free-spending suitors. His most recent comment on the situation was his wish to play for the best clubs in the world ‘one day’, but that he was patient to stay with a club as ambitious as Everton. Moyes on the other hand, whilst not completely resigning himself to Fellaini’s departure, has indicated that the twenty-four year old’s choice may be out of his hands. This is in no doubt due to Everton’s track record in this area. Like the sales of Lescott, Rooney and Rodwell before, the loss of Fellaini would be the next chapter in a familiar story for Moyes. In each previous instance, however, the Everton manager has recovered from these sales, both by (on the whole) wisely re-investing the budget he has been given to spend and by restarting the development cycle with younger players already within the squad. However, if Moyes et al do lose Fellaini in the immediate future, finding a replacement who can fill the void which the Belgian midfielder’s departure would inevitably leave would take possibly the smartest piece of reinvestment to date if the team are to continue their flirtation with the Premier League’s European places. With the January transfer window just around the corner, this may be an issue that Moyes has to quietly consider.