Tag: England

Dispatches from Russia: A FIFA World Cup Diary

“What were you expecting? A grizzly bear playing a balalaika and drinking vodka?”

“No, I was expecting a paunchy man in a tracksuit named Vasya to throw me in his trunk and drive me to Mordovia.”

“Oh, so you know Vasya?”

****

Expectation. It’s a word you hear a lot in the build-up to a FIFA World Cup. Especially if you happen to live in England. Are our expectations too high? When do we expect to go out? Should we expect penalties? Do we expect trouble in the host country?

More often than not, there’s only one way to find the answers to these questions. And that’s exactly why I was so excited to get the chance to experience the FIFA World Cup through my own eyes – to see the answers unfold on the pitch in front of me and to find out what it’s really like in a foreign country that to so many appears cold and unwelcoming.

Sure, you could argue that I’ve not come to the real Russia. Right now, Russia is in its Sunday best. It’s a Russia that’s been told to behave and be polite to outsiders. And yet, in Saint Petersburg, where I started my FIFA World Cup adventure a few days ago, I still found, and continue to find, that my expectations were far removed from anything even resembling the reality of Russia.

A hotbed of football fandom, the FIFA Fanfest in Moscow sits in front of the stunning State University building.

Though I can’t speak for the rest of the country, Saint Petersburg and Moscow have appeared to be almost ultra-friendly and cosmopolitan. There are no brutalist Soviet office blocks. No scary skinhead men spoiling for a scrap. Instead, in Saint Petersburg in particular, I found Venetian canals, vape shops and and hipster burger joints.

Replace the cyrillic signage on the city streets and you could fool me that this was Copenhagen.

Then comes the football. You can’t move for football out here. There’s FIFA World Cup bunting, plant pots decorated like the classic Telstar football. Zabivaka, the official FIFA World Cup mascot, is everywhere. When I arrived in Moscow, Brazil’s match against Costa Rica was streamed live in the carriages on the metro. Everyone here wants to know who you’re supporting and who you think will win the tournament.

Which brings me to Argentina. I was lucky enough to be in the stadium for the Marcos Rojo rescue act. I have been to many stadiums and many matches around the world. I’ve even been to three UEFA Champions League finals. But the noise, the atmosphere, the palpable tension giving way to sheer joy and elation when that goal was scored was something I’d never experienced ever before.

Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg sits at the end of a mile-long island near a children’s theme park and a vast expanse of parkland. On Tuesday, it was overrun by Argentines in search of a miracle.

The Argentines have come here in mind-boggling numbers, all praying for the same miracle. They hope – perhaps against all logic and reason – that Lionel Messi alone can deliver a spectacular upset. Because it’s not Argentina against the world right now. It’s Argentina against themselves.

As a massive Messi fan, I hope he can bring them glory. I hope he can do it for every single Argentine I have met on this extraordinary trip. I hope he is able to do it for Carlos and his friends, who bought me a beer in Copenhagen airport just because I had an Argentina shirt in my bag. I hope he can do it for the old guy I met in Saint Petersburg, who told me he was among the few people he knows who prefers Messi to Diego Maradona. I hope he can do it for the lads in the Moscow FIFA Fan Fest with the Newell’s Old Boys banner.

I hope, just as much as I do for England, that they don’t expect too much.


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We Predict… The 2018 FIFA World Cup

You feel that, right? That’s the feeling we football fans get in the days leading up to the start of a FIFA World Cup. That’s the feeling you get when you know there’s a whole month of tournament football lying in wait. After Russia face Saudi Arabia in the tournament opener at the Luzhniki on Thursday, there are 55 games in the space of 19 days. Once it all gets going there’ll only be one day left of June that won’t have a match on. You feel it, right? It’s called FIFA World Cup fever.

Everyone at Icons.com has it. We’re all heading out to Russia over the course of the tournament and we could’t be more excited. But nor could we be more divided on what’s going to go down when the best of the best go head-to-head.

Making a hash of what’s to come over the next 32 days, our staff and partners have made their predictions for the competition ahead. But don’t take our word as gospel, feel free to get involved on our FacebookTwitter and Instagram pages by giving us your predictions. After all, you can hardly do much worse.

And, of course, be sure to check out our fantastic range of official FIFA World Cup signed memorabilia from icons past and present – available right now on Icons.com.


Edward Freedman, Chairman

Winners: SPAIN have the best individuals and, since their victory in 2010, they are experienced in winning this tournament.

Runner-up: FRANCE’s weakest link is their inexperience but they have a great team that can get them to a second straight tournament final.

Shock exit: ENGLAND are rubbish. I don’t think they’re in the same class as a lot of the teams being talked about at this tournament. The Three Lions will draw against Panama and lose to Tunisia with the former shocking the world to progress to the knockout stages.

Golden Boot: DIEGO COSTA will inspire the eventual winners with a glut of goals.

England will… well, see above.

Random predictions: Iran will do a lot better than people expect while Belgium will disappoint despite progressing through Group G.

Can Diego Costa fire Spain to their second world title – a fourth major tournament triumph in ten years?

Dan Jamieson, CEO

Winners: SPAIN know how to win it, can keep the ball forever, have the world’s best goalkeeper and this time around they have the ugliest of ugly up front. And, of course, Sergio Ramos can take out any striker whenever necessary.

Runner-up: I like the look of FRANCE. They are my office sweepstake pick and I also like the look of about 23 high-calibre players that can’t even get into the squad (think Franck Ribery, Karim Benzema, Anthony Martial etc.). I think it’s a tournament too early for them to become world champions but the mix is right and in Antoine Griezmann they have a potential Golden Boot winner.

Shock exit: BRAZIL are not as good as they think they are, especially at defending. Neymar Jr can’t be 100% fit and the team is built around him. If they are dysfunctional upfront then the first big team that stands up to them can exploit the spaces at the back.

Golden Boot: If France get to the final then GRIEZMANN will play seven games and clean up just as he did at UEFA EURO 2016.

England will… play better football, look relatively organised, narrowly win the first two games, lose to Belgium and then come close to beating Colombia in the ROUND OF 16. They will come home feeling that the future’s brighter than the present.

Random predictions: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s mission to complete their trophy collection will be the journalistic narrative but team ethos, top goalkeeping, multiple goal threats, sound defending and ball-keeping midfielders will triumph over what they can offer. England fans will be looking through the silverware-winning U17 and U20 squads and drawing up their 2026 FIFA World Cup teamsheets come early July.

France forward Antoine Griezmann will be looking to go one better after Les Blues came close at UEFA EURO 2016.

Ben Soley, Sales and Marketing Manager

Winners: You don’t necessarily need the depth GERMANY have to win seven FIFA World Cup matches but the quality they possess is just insane. The fact that Leroy Sane will be watching from home (or more likely from a private island resort) speaks volumes.

Runner-up: FRANCE have the joint second youngest squad at the tournament. They beat Germany at UEFA EURO 2016 but that was on home soil. A second straight loss in a major final will be hard to take but we will be approaching a period of French dominance if they can eventually get it right.

Shock exit: Expectations will be higher for COLOMBIA after a stunning FIFA World Cup campaign four years ago and their group is one of the more competitive. PORTUGAL’s time in Russia will end as soon as they reach the knockouts. Both will be seen as underachievements.

Golden Boot: So many options! Having said that, I fancy someone from Group A with those kind fixtures against Russia and Saudi Arabia providing a good chance for the hat-trick that would take you halfway to the crown. I’ll be brave and go with Uruguay to be the nation with the most goals while MOHAMED SALAH takes the individual prize.

England will… lose in the QUARTER-FINALS. It’s hard not to put on the rose-tinted glasses. We have some outstanding wing-backs, one of the best strikers in the world and some great and in-form attacking support. Tight wins against Panama and Tunisia, coupled with a draw against Belgium, followed by a gritty win against one of Colombia or Poland in the round of 16 takes us to the quarters and Germany. That’s when I throw my glasses away.

Random predictions: Iran will only concede two goals but still go out at the group stages. Harry Kane will score a hat-trick while Harry Maguire will be an unlikely goalscorer. Lionel Messi will speak out against the AFA when Argentina are knocked out.

Germany are much-fancied to defend their title with strength in depth a particular asset.

Alistair Hunter, Senior Editor

Winners: BRAZIL are the perfect combination of gritty between the lines and irresistible going forward.

Runner-up: SPAIN are back to their best but come up just shy of a fourth title in ten years.

Shock exit: It pains me to say it as a massive fan of Lionel Messi but I see ARGENTINA going out at the group stages. Group D is deceptively tricky and there is a clear imbalance to Jorge Sampaoli’s squad. A fast start is needed to keep the immense pressure of their supporters’ expectations from getting to them.

Golden Boot: A relatively straightforward group and a deep run to the latter stages gives NEYMAR JR the best chance.

England will… reach the QUARTER-FINALS. Victory over Tunisia will lift their spirits enough to also cruise past Panama but defeat to Belgium leaves them second in Group G. They scrape by Colombia in the round of 16 causing a surge of excitement back home before Southgate’s men are outclassed (but hardly embarrassed) by the almighty Germans.

Random predictions: Lacking experience, training and guidance, FIFA World Cup officials struggle to properly implement VAR, which leads to several high-profile mistakes and widespread protestations over the use of the technology at future tournaments. Meanwhile Group C tops the goalscoring charts. 

Video Assistant Refereeing (VAR) will be in use at the FIFA World Cup for the very first time. But will it help or hinder?

James Tildesley, Head of New Business

Winners: GERMANY, as I really don’t see a weak area of their game and they have such depth to their squad. Couple that with a manager who knows how to win and I can’t see past them.

Runner-up: I like the look of Spain and Brazil but I think FRANCE will be the ones who eventually lose out to the Germans. Again, this is a team with a phenomenally good squad which appears to have less of the types of personalities that derailed them so spectacularly in 2010.

Shock exit: PORTUGAL have a difficult group and I felt they really flattered to deceive at UEFA EURO 2016. There will be plenty who say they won it on merit and I would tend to agree but I also feel there was an absence of any real opposition.

Golden Boot: I have money on TIMO WERNER so failure is not an option.

England will… get done 2-0 in the ROUND OF 16. I don’t see us doing much better than scraping out of our group but it’s also difficult for me to picture anything other than a spectacular disappointment in which we lose to Tunisia and Belgium and draw with Panama.

Random predictions: Mohamed Salah will overcome his shoulder injury to score six in Group A as he pulls himself into contention for the Golden Boot (I have money on him as well!). 

Egypt’s undoubted talisman, Mohamed Salah, will lead the line in a group of Uruguay, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Brett Sinclair, Warehouse Manager

Winners: BELGIUM have an all-round top quality squad with plenty of experience. They just need to work well together in a way that they have not before. Let’s see what Roberto Martinez can do.

Runner-up: ENGLAND. I must say that I think we are going in to the FIFA World Cup with a young squad that will have a lot to prove. Let’s wait and see what they can do.

Shock exit: There seems to be a lot of hype surrounding SPAIN this year but I think they get frustrated too easily. They may be on the end of a few red cards which could spell trouble in the group stages.

Golden Boot: As long as ANTOINE GRIEZMANN is on the pitch, I would always expect to see big things coming from him. The French squad has tons of talent and they should be able to make it easy for him.

England will… make it to the FINAL, as I stated earlier.

Random predictions: My very random prediction is that we will see a very high number of cards. I also think that VAR will not be used nearly as much as it should.

Is it time for Belgium’s golden generation to come good?



Football’s back! Six unmissable storylines to look out for in 2017-18

At last, it’s back! The real football has returned! From now until late May of next year, it’s non-stop, full-on, unadulterated football and we at Icons.com could not be more excited.

After all, this season has the potential to be bigger, better and more exciting than ever. And not just in England. Let’s not forget the thrills that await around the continent; in Spain, Germany, Italy and France, where the best footballers on the planet do battle in front of the biggest crowds for the right to claim the world’s most coveted prizes.

In fact, with so much going on around the world on the opening weekend of the season, you could be forgiven for not knowing where to start or what to look out for. Well, it’s lucky we’re here then, isn’t it? Here are six things you need to keep an eye on this season.

 

1. Bem-vindo Neymar Jr

So, it actually happened. With Neymar Jr’s switch from FC Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain for €222million, world football’s transfer record has been broken by a factor of two. Our office stopped in its tracks to watch – perhaps a little out of disbelief – as the mercurial Brazilian forward was presented in front of the world’s media last week. With a glitzy unveiling in front of a sell-out crowd days later, the Parc de Princes has had more than a little Hollywood about it over the past month.

This season the 25-year-old will surely set his sights not only on a sweep of the domestic titles on offer at his new club but also a shot at one or both of the two individual honours that would certify his superstar status: the Ballon D’or and FIFA’s The Best Award. Will the football gods also write a mouthwatering script that reunites him with Barça in the UEFA Champions League? It may be time to start warming those balls…

 

2. The main event

Speaking of the UEFA Champions League, this season’s race for club football’s most sought-after prize promises to be as thrilling as ever. Real Madrid made history at the end of last season as they became the first team to successfully defend their title but Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo aren’t quite content with just two-in-a-row. The Spanish champions have won the famous tournament in three of the last four years and they’ve developed a taste for success.

Meanwhile, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United are back, adding three previous winners and two of the competition’s most storied teams to the mix. Jurgen Klopp and Jose Mourinho have a great knack of inspiring magic on European nights but can the trophy really return to the North West as early as this season?

Not if the rest of Europe has something to say about it. A certain aforementioned Brazilian seems dead-set on making his mark at PSG but to get to Kiev they may have to return to the scene of last season’s most remarkable tie: Camp Nou. All this while Carlo Ancelotti plots Bayern Munich’s return to the European throne and Gianluigi Buffon prays for one last shot at the trophy that has always eluded him.

As an official UEFA licensee, Icons.com is the proud home of official UEFA Champions League signed memorabilia.

 

3. A six-horse race

The Premier League is getting stronger in competitive terms, there’s no doubt about that. Almost all of the world’s best managers are taking charge of talented, hungry and exciting teams in England’s topflight and that means the title could go almost anywhere.

In Manchester, Pep Guardiola is building an attack-minded team at City with the signing of Monaco’s Bernardo Silva to add to Sergio Aguero’s goals, while United have a new hitman in the form of Romelu Lukaku. Liverpool are still a side of pure pace up front and should be an entertaining watch considering their attacking prowess.

Meanwhile, in London, Antonio Conte has one of the world’s most exciting attacking midfielders in Eden Hazard and Mauricio Pochettino will just be happy that both Harry Kane and Dele Alli (see below) have gone the summer without their heads being turned. Arch-rivals Arsenal have satisfied the wishes of their fans with the purchase of Alexandre Lacazette and the retention of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil (at the time of writing, anyway). So, who exactly is supposed to be the frontrunner here?

Find out who we fancy to come out on top in our special 2017-18 season predictions blog.

 

4. Dele’s big year

The breakout season is history, the sophomore slump was nowhere to be seen. Now the most exciting young talent at both Tottenham Hotspur and England can stretch his legs and really show us what he’s got. Gunning for a hat-trick of PFA Young Player of the Year awards – and perhaps the main gong too – Dele Alli faces a season of much promise.

Playing in front of potentially 90,000 fans at Spurs’ temporary home of Wembley Stadium won’t faze the England regular, nor will the prospect of a second season in the UEFA Champions League group stages. In fact, knowing the boy-wonder personally from our signing sessions, we’re not sure exactly what could faze him, if anything. Here is a confident 21-year-old who has the world at his feet. Which reminds us, isn’t there some sort of big international tournament coming soon?

We are immensely proud to have an official contract with Tottenham and England sensation Dele Alli. For exclusive signed products, visit Icons.com today.

 

5. All the world’s a stage

Ah, yes, the FIFA World Cup. Next summer sees the return of the biggest football tournament on the planet and with potentially one last chance at winning that most coveted trophy, the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will be desperate to deliver glory to their respective countries. Neymar Jr, Philippe Coutinho, Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and Dele Alli will be among the young but established stars hoping to capture the world’s attention and with the talent on offer it promises to be a tournament full of drama.

Whisper it but England look to be stronger than in recent years with Wayne Rooney surely determined to bow out of international football on a high alongside a stellar mix of young and experienced players mostly plying their trade in the Premier League.

Capture the spirit and excitement of the FIFA World Cup with officially-licensed FIFA World Cup signed memorabilia, exclusive to Icons.com.

 

6. La Liga’s on a knife-edge

Madridistas could be forgiven for still being a little hungover when their domestic season starts with a Supercopa Clasico on Sunday evening. Last season, Real won their first league title since 2012 and became the first team in history to retain the UEFA Champions League. Their supremacy is currently unquestioned but this season their hated rivals will want revenge.

Lionel Messi’s ultra dramatic, last-gasp winner in the sides’ pulsating encounter at the Bernabeu merely fanned the flames that could well spark all-out war this term. Barça haven’t experienced for years the upheaval they’ve suffered over the past few months with Neymar Jr gone and now a new man at the helm. Who knows how Ernesto Valverde plans to stop the Zidane juggernaut?

 

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Icons Announce New Official FA England Memorabilia Licence

FA-Licence-Announcement

We are today proud to announce a brand new licence with The Football Association to provide Icons.com and The England Store with Official England Licensed Memorabilia.

Adding to official licences for FIFA World Cup, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, UEFA EURO 2016 and Lionel Messi signed products, we are delighted to bring together a brand new range of superb items signed by many of England’s finest ever players both past and present.

Many of the products in our brand new range mark the 50th anniversary of English football’s finest hour: the 1966 FIFA World Cup. We have signed items from the heroes of that legendary team; Sir Bobby Charlton, Jack Charlton, Sir Geoff Hurst, Gordon Banks, Alan Ball, Martin Peters, Roger Hunt, George Cohen, Nobby Stiles and Ray Wilson. There are team signed shirts both framed and unframed, signed photos, posters, boots, balls and much more among our wide selection.

World Cup Final

Sir Bobby Charlton holds aloft The Jules Rimet Trophy at Wembley Stadium on July 30th, 1966

Each and every product will come with an Official England Licensed Memorabilia Certificate of Authenticity which, where possible, gives details of when and where each item was signed. It’s proof that the product is 100% genuine and 100% official.

So, whether you’re feeling nostalgic about legendary achievements of England’s greatest ever players or excited for a new era of Three Lions football under Sam Allardyce, you’re bound to find an item you’ll treasure.

With exciting new products being added to both sites over the coming weeks and months, keep your eyes peeled for more Official England Licensed Memorabilia from the world’s best. The full range is coming to Icons.com soon but if you can’t wait, check out our products on The England Store today!

For more reasons to buy from Icons.com, visit our Why Buy From Us page.

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Kop Idol Jamie Carragher Signs For Icons

ZZ-Jamie-Carragher-Icons-Signing-Session-January-2016

It’s not hard to see why Jamie Carragher is so beloved by Liverpool fans. A fiercely loyal and remarkably determined competitor, “Carra” played 737 times during a career spanning sixteen seasons and not once did he turn out for a team other than the Reds. His devotion to the Anfield side notwithstanding, Jamie’s often underrated talent, leadership and charming everyman personality elevated him from stalwart central defender to a homegrown hero adored by the Kop.

For all these reasons and more, Icons were eager to meet with the man himself for a private signing session at the office of his charity, the 23 Foundation, on Wednesday January 27th – a mere day before Jamie’s thirty-eighth birthday.

Jamie-Carragher-77-of-106-(1)

Lining the walls of the Foundation’s plush yet homely headquarters were a number of photos chronicling Jamie’s distinguished career in professional football. Striking images of a young Jamie sat alongside memories of Liverpool’s celebrated treble-winning season of 2000-01 and, of course, plenty of photos from that famous night in Istanbul.

As the signing began, Jamie happily chatted away about Liverpool’s penalty shoot-out victory over Stoke City in the previous evening’s Capital One Cup semi-final clash at Anfield. While talking up the Reds’ chances of winning the competition at the Wembley final on February 28th, Carra himself appeared on the television behind us. Joking with current Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp about injuries, Jamie suggested he could be brought back into the fold to help out the injury-ravaged squad. “I need players who can go for 120 minutes,” Klopp laughed.

Jamie-Carragher-83-of-106-e1454518693712

Though these days he may not be able to stay the course of a full match with extra time, Jamie was certainly more than capable of giving his all for 120 minutes – and more – back in his prime. On no occasion was this more true than on May 25th, 2005 in Istanbul. The events of that night, as Liverpool won the UEFA Champions League in the most dramatic style, will live long in the memory of any Red. That’s why we wanted to deliver signed products from Jamie that commemorate that incredible night; products like his front signed Istanbul shirt; the dual signed official programme; and the framed “2005 Champions League Winner” photo.

icjclp1uclf-jamie_carragher_official_uefa_champions_league_signed_and_framed_liverpool_photo-_2005_champions_league_winner

With another successful signing winding down, Jamie revealed to us that he was to spend the weekend in Milan, watching the Derby della Madonnina at the San Siro. It came as no surprise that a man who has such an undying passion for football would want to spend the weekend of his birthday watching Inter take on AC in one of the sport’s biggest fixtures.

But what did shock us was the fact that Jamie would be going as a paying punter, a fan in the stands. Here is a man who has won nearly everything there is to win in the club game, has lifted Europe’s biggest trophy and is adored by one of the world’s biggest football clubs. Yet true to his roots, passionate and humble as ever, Carra would be back out on to the stands, watching the game he loves.

For our full range of Jamie Carragher signed products check out icons.com now!

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Memorabilia signed by Jamie Carragher