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No Saintly intervention for the Swans

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By Jonathan Twigg

KEEPERS of the faith or a question when football rivalry becomes a ‘Holy War’ where your life depends on it.

Kevin Johns MBE, a pillar of Swansea City, spoke of martyrdom before defeat by Southampton, on Tuesday (May 8). Saint Mary, a team from the Church Young Men’s Association of 1885 born the banks of the ‘Itchen’ currently managed by ‘Welshmen’ Mark Hughes. A eulogy which encapsulates Peter Rodrigues, 1976 cup winning captain and the towering Paul Jones in goal; best of all from the pearly gates, none other than Gareth Bale.

Many thought godly intervention occurred with the appointment of Carlos Carvalhal prior to Christmas, divine intervention immediate, but the current situation, no goals and no points stretching back a month.

Wales and football have always had a heavenly ring when it comes to looking for signs but compare Scotland, Rangers vs Celtic for a view on how religion and sport cannot be separated. After Tuesday evening, a hope for a shared appreciation with Cardiff City in the Premier League once more, now hangs by a thread.

There was no cross carrying to the altar on this occasion, 20,000 white flag bearing emblems whipping the pilgrims to a frenzy. Andrew and Jordan Ayew the early disciples, Ki Sung-Yueng strong like St Barnabas, allowing Andy King having space to go for goal.

Luigi Scrosoppi (1804-84) the patron saint of footballers extended his care to all players but maybe, just maybe he had an inkling of companionship with George not David for the night. He was a battler against the strong anti-clerical feeling in Italy to bring hope and comfort to the poor; boy did Luigi, the son of a jeweller know when to kick sand.

The business of global football is humungous, still growing, the Premier League of course the place to be. Thursday, June 14, the start of the 2018 World Cup wouldn’t be able to match the energy of the Liberty Stadium, viral electricity in the form of a ‘berating Sparky’.

Kevin Johns’ reverence a catalyst for a chapel just off the players tunnel, encapsulating the imagery of ‘Camp Nou’? Peering back a replica of the Virgin of Montserrat, Catalonia’s most famous religious icon and its patron saint, with Baby Jesus on her lap exchange for St David, proudly inhaling a full choral rendition of ‘Land of my Fathers’. The Swans held sway, thirty minutes of football to their advantage, but no goal, Fabianski, the ‘big pole in the goal’ a saviour from Charlie Austin; twice.

One part of the epiphany, patron saint of the lottery, ‘Pantaleon’ although the Swansea players inspired by Saint Sebastian, extremely fit and able to withstand long physical endurance. Praying didn’t win the crunch game, when it mattered.

the ‘Jack Army’ a congregation of little ill repute registering the pressure, heading every ball, drumming pace and trickery. Sam Clucas saw his header slide across the face of the Alex McCarthy’s goal, the throng now not committed to the Sunday service Kevin asked of in his prayer.

The second half tension, flaring tempers and Jordan Ayew off like the clappers in tune with the stand, Austin chance after chance, enter Tammy Abraham, a tactical change replacing wing back Martin Olsson, Kyle McNaughton flying as Tammy called the tune, Jan Bednarek flattened by his own goal keeper, left to take a seat on the pews, Abraham cranked up the crescendo before substitute Manolo Gabbiadini broke the deadlock and the spirit.

Narsingh came on for McNaughton in the final quarter, Tom Carroll for King, Ki wasteful with Michael Oliver awarding six minutes of extra time, Abraham close before the emotion drained away.

The singing voices now clearly ‘the saints come marching in’ reminding us of St. Jude Thaddeus, cousin of Jesus and one of his Twelve Apostles, the patron saint of hopeless, desperate situations and lost, impossible, or forgotten causes. Read, Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  Kevin Johns, a Swan through and through and hope reigns eternal, perhaps with some ‘Hail Mary’s’ church bells will continue to ring loudly across West Wales.

News

England’s Euro 2024 semi-final victory captivates millions

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ENGLAND’S Euro 2024 semi-final victory over the Netherlands garnered a peak audience of 20.3 million on ITV, cementing its status as the most-watched television programme of the year. Broadcasters are now hopeful that Sunday night’s final against Spain will attract over 30 million viewers, surpassing the numbers that tuned in for England’s Euro 2020 final defeat.

The overnight viewing figures, provided by ratings agency Digital-i, do not account for the millions who streamed the match on ITVX or watched in public venues. The coverage of Euro 2024 in the UK is split between the BBC and ITV, with the channels alternating first choices for matches in each round. ITV executives celebrated Jordan Pickford’s crucial penalty save against Switzerland, which secured another high-profile England match and delivered a substantial advertising boost to the channel.

Both the BBC and ITV will broadcast the final, with approximately a fifth of viewers typically opting for ITV over the BBC. Euro 2024 has demonstrated the enduring appeal of live sports broadcasting, which continues to draw massive audiences, particularly when the events are free to watch. Even matches not involving home nations have attracted significant viewership, with the Spain v France semi-final on BBC One peaking at 11 million viewers.

The Euros are part of the UK’s “crown jewel” sporting events, which include the football World Cup, Wimbledon, and the Olympics, all mandated by law to be shown on free-to-air channels. In contrast, other sports have opted for the higher revenue available from pay TV channels, resulting in substantially lower audiences for international matches. The England and Wales cricket board successfully lobbied in the 2000s to keep England test matches off the free-to-air list. Consequently, Jimmy Anderson’s farewell match against the West Indies at Lords, broadcast behind a paywall on Sky, attracted a peak audience of only about 700,000 viewers.

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Crime

Welsh Snooker star Michael White jailed for assaulting partner

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A WELSH snooker star has been jailed after assaulting his then-partner. Michael White, 33, of Penshannel, Neath Abbey, assaulted the woman, causing actual bodily harm, on two separate occasions. The first incident occurred on February 12, 2022, and the second on December 10, 2022.

White pleaded guilty to the charges. A further charge of intentional strangulation on December 10 was directed to lie on file. White, whose snooker world ranking peaked at 15 in 2016, was sentenced at Swansea Crown Court on Thursday, July 11, 2024.

He received a total jail term of 36 months – 19 months for the first incident and a consecutive 17 months for the second. The World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association has announced that White has been removed from the world ranking list and the World Snooker Tour with immediate effect.

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Politics

Culture secretary vows push to keep free-to-air Six Nations games

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WALES’ culture secretary vowed to make the case for keeping Wales’ Six Nations games on free-to-air TV to her Labour colleagues in the new UK Government.

Lesley Griffiths told the Senedd she will be seeking a meeting with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to discuss the issue.

Ms Griffiths said: “Making the Six Nations free-to-air ensures that everyone, regardless of their financial situation, can feel part of this shared experience.

“This inclusivity strengthens community bonds and fosters a sense of belonging.”

Responding to a debate on a Senedd culture committee report on broadcasting rights, the culture secretary said she would write to the UK Government by the end of this week.

Delyth Jewell chairs the culture committee, which held an inquiry on whether Wales’ matches should be added to Ofcom’s list of events that must be shown on terrestrial TV.

The Plaid Cymru politician said: “A perfect storm of market dynamics in broadcasting live sport has seen more and more events go behind a paywall.

“Public service broadcasters are facing significant budgetary constraints, be this from long-term cuts to the licence fee, or a downturn in the advertising market on broadcast television. Increasing production costs are compounding both these factors.

“The advent of global streaming services also means that the value of sports broadcasting rights has increased.”

The Welsh Rugby Union told the inquiry that moving matches to the protected list could have a devastating medium- and long-term impact on the whole game in Wales.

Media rights account for £20m of the WRU’s £90m total revenue, with the union calling for open competition to maximise income for the game.

Carolyn Thomas, the Labour MS for North Wales, recognised this tension but warned: “There is a real risk here that avoiding action will leave us dropping the ball. We must ensure future generations can connect with the game without having to shell out for the privilege.”

She added: “Let’s hope, with the new UK Labour Government, we will be in a safe pair of hands and we get protected, free-to-air Six Nations coverage over the line.”

Heledd Fychan called for matches to be broadcast on S4C, rather than having a Welsh viewing option on platforms such as Amazon Prime.

The Plaid Cymru MS, who represents South Wales Central, pointed out that Rhondda MP Chris Bryant has been appointed a junior DCMS minister as she urged Labour to act.

Samuel Kurtz raised concerns about the 8% interest rate the WRU is paying on an £18m coronavirus business interruption loan scheme from the Welsh Government.

Pointing out that the rate was fixed at 2% for English premiership sides, the Tory MS said: “I think that’s a financial constraint that’s hurting our professional clubs here in Wales.”

Caerphilly MS Hefin David joked that he has a lot in common with former PM Rishi Sunak – “as my dad wouldn’t let us have Sky either, and we had to listen to it on the radio”.

He called for a ‘Plan B’ for the hospitality industry if rugby goes behind a paywall, including a contractual clause to give small pubs and clubs a reduced pay-to-view subscription.

Dr David said he watches Wales matches at Gilfach workmen’s club, which pays £514 a month for Sky, as he raised concerns about venues having to buy multiple subscriptions..

“Well, Gilfach workies simply can’t afford that,” he said.

Alun Davies, a fellow Labour backbencher, said: “We need to address the real crisis in Welsh rugby and that is ensuring that the game exists for future generations, and I believe that exposure to the Six Nations championship is fundamental to that.”

The Blaenau Gwent MS raised the example of Glamorgan cricket.

He said: “It does raise fears within me that the more we take the game away from the screens, the more we take it away from our communities and from the people who enjoy watching the game, and the less it becomes our national sport.”

The culture committee’s inquiry was sparked after John Whittingdale, a Conservative former culture minister, left the door open last autumn while giving evidence.

Sir John told the meeting: “We’ve always said that if the Welsh Parliament argued very strongly that, for the good of sport in Wales, we needed to look again at the listed events, we would look at it, certainly. So, it’s not closed.’

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