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This is the story of Dylan Tombides. The young Australian footballer who’s brave battle with testicular cancer inspired the Foundation in his name and left a legacy that aims to educate and raise awareness, throughout the football community and beyond.

Dylan was raised in Perth, Western Australia and from a very early age, football became his focus. His father, Jim was the stay at home parent and played an important role in his early development.

By the age of 11 Dylan moved onto Stirling Lions Soccer Club for a season before joining Perth SC. In 2007, the family moved to Macau, but that didn’t stop Dylan and his younger brother Taylor from playing as much football as they could. They would play and train locally in Macau but would travel to Hong Kong on the weekends for more serious matches and training.

Given the Portuguese culture in Macau, the opportunity arose for Dylan to participate in some trials in Portugal. But Mike Leigh, one of Dylan’s former coaches back in Perth who was also an Academy scout for West Ham United, suggested Dylan visit the East London club first. After a four week trial with the Under 18s, Tony Carr was impressed with Dylan. His family had the opportunity to move to London and so Dylan signed with West Ham. By this time, Dylan was 15 years old and he quickly adapted to life at the club, in what was a very competitive environment.

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But two years later, for Dylan, and his family things were about to change. One day at home, Dylan noticed a lump on his testicle. He immediately went to the doctor for a checkup who told him it was just a cyst and nothing to worry about. That left Dylan to finish the season with West Ham. He was breaking into the first team at this point and was on bench for the final game of the season on May 22nd. The following month he joined up with Australia’s U/17s as they prepared for the World Cup in Mexico. Dylan was a key player, featuring in all four of Australia’s matches before they were eliminated in the Round of 16.

Following the tournament, Dylan and his father decided to spend an extra week in Mexico on holiday, but a random drug test conducted during the competition had returned positive – either for a banned substance, or a tumour. It was confirmed that Dylan had testicular cancer. There was no doubt that he was in for a fight. Every time he would go through treatment, the cancer would return just weeks later, stronger than before.

But as it always had done, football kept Dylan going. His determination and positive attitude saw him make his first team debut for West Ham on the 25th of September, 2012, coming off the bench in the 84th minute in a League Cup match versus Wigan. It was a dream come true. The immense support from the club was also on show, allowing Dylan to get the most out of his training and making sure his chemotherapy treatment had as little impact on his football as possible.

By March 2013, the cancer had returned yet again, this time in Dylan’s liver. Surgery put him out of action for three months and he missed the Under 20 World Cup. His fight continued throughout the remainder of the year. More procedures and more chemotherapy. But Dylan was determined to make the U22 AFC Championships in Oman in January 2014. And remarkably, only three weeks after his latest cycle of chemo, he did.

But after the tournament, Dylan was informed that the cancer had not responded to the latest treatment and his doctors said they could no longer offer him a cure. Searching for hope, Dylan and his family went to Germany. The doctors there were in awe of Dylan and the way he’d fought the disease over the previous three years and still managed to play football at international level. Unfortunately though, they couldn’t offer him good news. After seven chemotherapy treatments they were concerned about the stress on Dylan’s organs. And soon enough, his organs began to fail.

Dylan passed away in Germany, surrounded by his family on the 18th of April, 2014. The very next day, West Ham retired Dylan’s number 38. Only one other West Ham player has had their shirt number retired by the club – the great Bobby Moore. Now Dylan had also received that honour.

Shortly after Dylan passed away, his mother, Tracy set about creating a charity in his memory. One that would not only honour Dylan’s life but work to prevent others going through similar struggles the Tombides family faced. The result is DT38, The Dylan Tombides Foundation. It’s mission is to raise awareness and change the stigma associated with men’s health issues with a focus on testicular cancer. The Foundation provides educational programmes and opportunities for young people – to help drive self awareness about their health and wellbeing.

The football community has been pivotal in helping to communicate the Foundation’s message, from West Ham themselves, who made DT38 one of its principal charities, to the Australian national team. Dylan’s memory lives on, as does his impact on football and cancer awareness.

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Football video games go back some way, from early titles like Kick Off and Match Day in the 1980s to Sensible Soccer, Ultimate Soccer and the arcade classic, Virtua Striker in the 90s. They all had great names back then. These days, it’s FIFA from EA Sports and Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer, or simply PES that dominate the gaming landscape. But both made their beginnings in the 1990s as well.

The role these games play in football fan culture has grown significantly over the years. This is perhaps partly due to the way they have have evolved with technology. The level of realism has increased with each annual release, making them as close to a simulation of football as possible, whilst still retaining the element of fun. They’ve become a staple in the football diet of existing fans around the world as well as a gateway drug for new fans of the beautiful game.

For the football obsessed, video games fill the gaps in soccer fandom and enable you to play out your football fantasies, building a story for yourself in an imaginary world. Career modes in particular, like Pro Evo’s Master League certainly provide this. They tap into something that all fans can appreciate, like taking a minnow club to footballing glory.

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But there’s another football game that maybe illustrates this even more. Football Manager. For years, the FM series has captured the imagination of fans like no other computer game, fuelling football addictions and providing an escape into a world of the players own making.

Video games have impacted football culture in educational ways too. The amount of information available to fans these days is due in part to games like Football Manager and FIFA. Although, not comprehensive it’s still important to acknowledge that the data and information that comes from video games is still based on reality. Fans now have a greater understanding of the global game and a familiarity with players and teams than previous generations. There’s no doubt that it’s influenced how much we understand the sport as a whole.

But perhaps even more intriguing is how video games are now impacting football itself. There have been several cases in recent years where FM players have landed real jobs in football thanks to skills they honed in the computer game. Including a 22 year old who was hired by Azerbaijan club FC Baku in 2012 as a General Manager, assisting with scouting and transfers. In similar fashion, volunteer researchers for Football Manager have gone onto become data analysts and scouts for real life clubs. And on a deeper level, FM has influenced the very language used in football.

It’s taught us another way of thinking. How to gauge a player’s worth and how to quantify a player’s ability that didn’t exist before and it’s become a universal language throughout the game. It’s essentially changed the way business is done within the sport and the way players are valued within the football marketplace.

Video games have also had an effect on football players themselves and the way they play the game. Arsene Wenger once called Lionel Messi a “PlayStation footballer”. It’s well known that Messi and his teammates at La Masia would play FIFA and Pro Evo continuously in their spare time. It’s reasonable to suggest that partly the player Messi became is perhaps because he played a lot of video games. These games challenge the conventions and push the boundaries of the sport itself. They change what you think of as being possible.

As more generations of players come through, growing up in a culture where video games have such a dominant presence, their influence on the game will only continue to grow.

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30/04/2017
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In July 2007, the AFC Asian Cup took place in four host nations, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. Heading into the 14th edition of the tournament all the usual suspects were tipped as favourites for the Cup. South Korea and Iran, Japan and Saudi Arabia and then newcomers to the Asian Football Confederation, Australia. But overlooked and underestimated, was Iraq.

Fans and pundits alike had little expectations for the Lions of Mesopotamia and making it as far as the first knockout round was considered satisfactory. But the Iraqis were a strong unit, having made it to the Quarter Finals of the 2004 Asian Cup and the Semi Finals of the Olympics that same year, falling just short of a Bronze Medal.

Much of that squad had stuck together and were well prepared for their next major tournament. Including Nashat Akram, Younis Mahmoud, Salih Sadir, Hawar Mulla Mohammed and Noor Sabri. They’d had good results in regional tournaments and were a strong regional nation, knocking on the door of success in Asia. The players themselves and indeed the Iraqi federation had set much higher standards in 2007.

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But a number of factors looked to go against Iraq. They were drawn in a tough group alongside Oman, co-hosts Thailand and Australia. And they appointed a new head coach, Jorvan Vieira in May, just two months before the start of the competition. It was also right in the middle of the Iraq War and the daily struggles in their home country weighed heavily. There wasn’t a player in the squad whose family had not been directly affected. The impact of war and the country’s political climate on the Iraqi national team was something the players had dealt with for years, but the 2007 Asian Cup presented them with an opportunity to bring hope to the nation.

Iraq’s first group match was against Thailand on July 7 in Bangkok. On a soggy pitch in the rain, the hosts went ahead early via a penalty but Iraq managed to gain control of the match and then pull level on 32 minutes. The matched finished 1-1 and although the draw wasn’t the start Iraq wanted, they’d at least secured a point ahead of their second match.

On July 13, it was time to face Australia who were coming off the back of a strong performance at the 2006 World Cup. As the underdogs, Iraq had to impose themselves on the opposition as early as possible and a goal from Nashat Akram on 21 minutes did just that. The Australians were rattled and it took until the 2nd half for them to respond. But in stunning fashion Iraq hit back with two more goals to secure a 3-1 win. This was where the momentum started to build.

Iraq’s third and final group game against Oman ended 0-0 but the point was enough to see them top the group and advance to the knockout rounds. The knockout stage began with a meeting with co-hosts, Vietnam who were perhaps the weakest of the Quarter Finalists. And Iraq dispatched them easily with a 2-0 win. The captain, Younis Mahmoud the hero once again.

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Awaiting in the Semi Finals was South Korea. Having already beaten the likes of Australia, Iraq were high on confidence and determined to continue their run. It would prove to be a gruelling match though. No score at the end of 90 minutes and going all the way to penalties. Iraq won the shootout 6-5 to progress the Final.

The stage was set in Jakarta where they would face 3-time winners, Saudi Arabia on July 29. 60,000 fans inside the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium and millions more around the world were watching on to see if Iraq could make history. It was a physical match, full of tension and Iraq dominated play for much of the game but they struggled to find a breakthrough. That was until Younis Mahmoud stepped up once again on 72 minutes. Iraq winning a corner and Mahmoud sending a powerful header into the back of the net.

The tension only grew in the dying minutes as Saudi Arabia pushed for an equaliser, but Iraq held on to become Champions of Asia. For a country torn apart by war, football had brought joy and hope to the nation and left a legacy for generations to come.

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As a global sport, football is integral to so many cultures around the world and naturally, we see it represented in many different art forms, including film.

The Arsenal Stadium Mystery is recognised as one of the first adaptations of the world game to the big screen. Released in 1939, the film focuses on a fictional exhibition match between Arsenal and amateur club, ‘The Trojans’ at Highbury Stadium. During the match, one of the Trojans players drops dead and a murder mystery ensues. It’s still highly regarded as an important film of its era.

Football films came in and out of fashion quite consistently over the following years, hitting a peak in 1981 with the release of the cult classic, Escape to Victory. Known simply as Victory in North America, the film tells the story of World War II Prisoners of War who agree to play an exhibition match against a German team. Learning that the match is a German propaganda stunt, the Allies devise a plan to escape from the stadium.

It’s held up to be one of the better football films and is supposedly (very loosely) based on a real match. The story portrayed on screen however is very much dramatised, as movies tend to be. Starring Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone and featuring big name players, including Pele and Bobby Moore, employing footballers who can’t act and actors who can’t play football was always going to be a challenge. But surprisingly, it’s quite an enjoyable film and is actually one of few examples where the scale of a real life match is presented fairly accurately.
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Both of these films certainly have some charm about them but unfortunately, the same can’t be said for so many other movies. Football has a difficult relationship with the big screen, not to mention the direct-to-video small screen. A common narrative is the football fairytale, an unlikely star overcoming various obstacles to make it at the top level of the game. Like the Goal! Trilogy.

There’s also been several films centered around football hooligans. I.D., released in 1995 is one of the better examples but Green Street (and its two sequels) was a terrible film on nearly every level. It starred Elijah Wood as an American journalism student who gets mixed up in a football firm in London. Honestly, the less said about it the better.

Notable films such as Bend It Like Beckham, When Saturday Comes, Gregory’s Girl, The Damned United and even Fever Pitch manage to steer clear of being truly dreadful. But while they have their appealing elements, they’re far from special. There are a some great feature films about sports but when it comes to the world’s most popular game, football films tend to disappoint more often than not.

Although, there is one feature film in particular that does stand out. Offside, released in 2006. If there’s one advantage that film can offer football, it’s a platform to explore social and cultural issues that often go unrecognised. And Offside does this superbly.

The film focuses on a group of Iranian women who want to watch a crucial World Cup Qualifier at Tehran’s national stadium between Iran and Bahrain. However, women are banned from attending football matches and other sports events in Iran. This leads the women to adopt disguises in order to sneak in.

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Director Jafar Panahi has stated that he used football to highlight the wider discrimination against women in his home country. The Iranian government have since banned the film and Panahi was placed under house arrest and banned from leaving the country.

Great feature films may be few and far between but where football really shines is documentaries. The Four Year Plan, Hillsborough, The Two Escobars, I Believe in Miracles and Next Goal Wins are all fantastic films.

Another, that certainly set itself apart is Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. Filmed in real time, it follows Zinedine Zidane for an entire match with 17 cameras, all focused on the player during a La Liga match between Real Madrid and Villarreal. Although Zidane doesn’t have a particularly good game, the film gives you a unique insight into the kind of player and person he was, when you strip away all of the glamourous elements of his career. It’s definitely not for everyone but it’s an incredibly refreshing take on the beautiful game that allows you to view football in an incredibly unique way.

 

We certainly haven’t seen the last of terrible football films but as long as the game is embedded in our lives, expressing that through film will always be valuable.

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30/04/2017
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Have you ever dreamed of creating your own football club? Well, this is the story of some football fans who went several steps further. They created an entire league. And like many ambitious ideas, it all starts in a pub.

In the lead up to the 2014 World Cup, Jack Whelan and his brother were trying to find a place to watch the games in Paris, which proved difficult due to the existing football culture. Unlike Jack’s native England and many other places, going to the pub with your friends isn’t as common in Paris. But Jack’s brother already owned a bar/club so they decided to turn it into the go-to destination for football fans during the tournament.

This wasn’t just any football pub though. They wanted to make sure it would be a welcoming place and open to everyone, not just avid football supporters. This approach influenced everything they did, from the decor to the pubs name and logo. They called it Le Ballon and hosted their launch party in partnership with local fashion store, Colette, ensuring they would reach out to fashion types and creatives who would see that watching football at the pub with your friends can be a great experience.

It was a big success and Le Ballon was packed with crowds every day. They were also getting attention from brands throughout the tournament who wanted to work with them, which led to Jack and friends founding a sports marketing agency called Nutmeg. After the World Cup was over, they then had the idea to create their own team, just like pubs in the UK who all have their own pub teams and play Sunday League football.

They initially pitched the idea to other bars in the area to see if they were open to playing some one off games or maybe starting a league, but none of them were interested. Instead, they turned to the community and connections they had built over the summer. Gathering in the basement of the pub, they chose eight team captains who were all given the freedom to create their own clubs from scratch, including colours, logo, kits and the players who would join their new teams. Jack had also presented the idea to Nike who had agreed to provide the gear and financial assistance to get the project off the ground. Le Ballon Football League was born.

The eight teams are made up of various artists, creatives and football lovers around Paris, and each of them with their own unique style. Including Public House FC, taking their inspiration from pub football and terrace culture. River Dubplate, a team of DJ’s. The 300, an exclusive Facebook group of PSG supporters and Paris 75ers, a collection of artists and fashion types whose contrasting logo is the humble pigeon.

Despite being an amateur league, there was a real insistence on doing things the right way, with a professional approach. Not only was presentation important but practical things too, like hiring referees and coaches and hosting regular training sessions for all teams. They were even invited to play their first round of matches at the home of French football, Clairefontaine.
Since its establishment, LBFL has made strong connections with the football community in Paris and inspired fans around the world. It’s a football league unlike any other, where the beautiful game merges with fashion, music and design. It’s reflection of the cultural influence the game has had and continues to have around the globe.

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29/04/2017
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Football’s success stories are well documented. Like the youth players that rise through the ranks of the academy system to make it as professionals. But what about the ones who don’t make it?

Ignacio Martin was just like any young football fan. He dreamed of playing professionally for his boyhood club. But when the opportunity to join Real Madrid’s prestigious Youth Academy finally came along, it didn’t quite live up to expectations.

Ignacio grew up on the island of Tenerife, part of the Canary Islands. He began playing football from the age of 10 after encouragement from his brother. He enjoyed the social aspect of football and made lots of great friends along the way.

When you played with your friends it almost seemed like the objective was not winning. The objective was well, if that guy lost a ball, if the next guy lost a ball, I would be the one to help him get it back. And I guess he would do the same thing for me. We respected the importance of reciprocity.

But by the age of 15, Martin began to attract the attention of scouts who were recruiting for various football academies. One of those clubs was AC Milan who invited Ignacio to play in a tournament in Valencia. No offer was forthcoming, but another chance presented itself at a summer camp hosted by Real Madrid. Ignacio and his brother were selected from a group of around a thousand kids after impressing in tryouts. They were invited to join the Real Madrid Youth Academy.

This had long been an ambition of Ignacio’s after growing up watching youth academy tournaments in Spain. After a meeting at the clubs training facilities he was offered a contract, and he signed. All costs included. Flights, relocation, school fees, everything. He was about to join one of the best football schools in the world. The dream had become reality.

That first day I was just pretty excited and just scared. I was really scared, yeah. They introduce you to the rest of the team and I was looking at these guys and I was realising that I knew most of these guys from the tournaments I used to watch.

But that was just first day. Then when we started training and everything, things went a little bit better at first.

But it didn’t take long for Ignacio to learn that life at the Academy wasn’t going to be easy. As injuries started to accumulate over the season, he realised that something just wasn’t right. Not simply a combination of bad luck and having to adjust to a new training schedule. But rather, the way the Academy was run just wasn’t sufficient.

Every day would see the students follow the same routine. After waking up at 8am to a less than ideal breakfast, the students would head off to school. They wouldn’t get a break for lunch until 2pm before finishing classes around 5pm. After school they had just enough time to eat a few biscuits and a milkshake that was provided in their dorms before heading off to training. The training grounds were a 45 minute bus ride away. After a full two hour session, finishing at around 10pm, it was time for the same bus trip back home to their residence for dinner.

This was repeated every weekday, while weekends were occupied with playing competitive matches. There was little time for studying, or sleep for that matter. It was this lifestyle that caused Ignacio to struggle. It became clear that there was a serious lack of balance to life at the Academy.

Teenagers were being treated like professionals, expected to train at a very high level, but without an adequate diet. That led to being more vulnerable to injuries and made recovery even more difficult. For all the emphasis on football training, most of the kids aren’t expected to make it as professionals. Yet, their education was secondary.

I thought that was one of the major problems Real Madrid had because basically that lifestyle made you want to stop studying. Because you could only concentrate on one thing.

As a teenager, Ignacio says he didn’t have the capacity to properly express his feelings. He didn’t want to complain, for the fear of seeming ungrateful for such a rare opportunity. And he didn’t want to disappoint his family. That put a lot of pressure on him and affected his mental health.

The Real Madrid Youth Academy is commonly known as La Fábrica – The Factory. And it has produced a lot of great players who have gone onto successful, professional careers. But considering Ignacio’s personal experience, it can also be interpreted in a different way.

Is it morally appropriate you know, for a 15 year old to learn these harsh lessons with the maturity one has back then? Is it appropriate for a 15 year old, and even people who are younger than me, to learn that they’re basically a product on a market and everybody is basically out to get their cut?

At the end of the season, Ignacio was told he wasn’t good enough to stay and was let go. He says he felt liberated. And despite everything he went through, he looks back on his time at the academy as a learning experience that made him stronger as a person. It also gave him a new perspective on football.

I think that it contaminated my relationship a little bit but at the end of the day I could draw a line, make a difference between the football I really loved and the football I despised. The football I really loved was the football you play with your friends, the football you play in your local team. That’s the real football.

CREDITS

This episode was inspired by the Vice.com article, I was at the Real Madrid Football Academy and absolutely hated it, written by Ignacio Martin. 

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