Wonga woe

Newcastle United have come under attack from a number of quarters following the announcement that they are to be sponsored by short-term loan company Wonga.

Wonga, who have agreed a £6 million-a-year deal for four years, drew criticism from MPs for the level of interest charged on its 30-day loans, which if translated over the course of a year would amount to an incredible 4,212 per cent. To put that figure into some kind of context, were Wonga to loan an individual £6m , the repayment after 12 months at that APR would be £250m.

Criticism has come from the Muslim Council of Britain  who warned the club’s Muslim players – including Demba Ba, Papiss Cissé, Cheick Tioté and Hatem Ben Arfa – that wearing the new shirts would infringe Sharia law.

Under Sharia law a Muslim is not allowed to benefit from lending money or receiving money from someone.

Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, assistant secretary general of the MCB, said: “There are two aspects to this. We have the rulings of the religious law and we have the individual’s choice and decision on how they want to follow or not follow that rule.

“The idea is to protect the vulnerable and the needy from exploitation by the rich and powerful. When they are lending and are charging large amounts of interest, it means the poor will have short-term benefit from the loan but long-term difficulty in paying it back because the rate of interest is not something they can keep up with. The Islamic system is based on a non-interest-based system of transaction.”

Further criticism comes from Newcastle City Council, whose leader, Nick Forbes said: “I’m appalled and sickened that they would sign a deal with a legal loan shark. It’s a sad indictment of the profit-at-any-price culture at Newcastle United. We are fighting hard to tackle legal and illegal loan sharking and having a company like this right across the city on every football shirt that’s sold undermines all our work.”

To sugar the pill for Newcastle fans the deal means the restoration of the name of the stadium to St James’ Park.

Wonga founder Errol Damelin defended the deal, saying: “It’s a big club. It fits with our passion and ambition.”

A passion for what? Relieving gullible poor people of their money?

What’s surprising, given the flakey way the club has been run under owner Mike Ashley, is that there haven’t been complaints from angry Wonga shareholders about the brand being tainted by association with the Magpies.

Quote of the day

“€60M would solve the financial concerns of Atletico. However, I can say with certainty that Falcao will finish the season with us.

 The players and coaches at this club like him very much.”

Atletico Madrid director Gil Marin believes that Radamel Falcao’s actual value to the club transcends his transfer value.

Mascot mayhem

An inflatable model of Brazil’s 2014 World Cup mascot, a three-banded armadillo, has been taken down after being attacked by vandals for the second time in the space of a week.

The seven-metre high mascot was removed from its location near Brasilia’s Esplanade of the Ministries, after youths attacked it with knives.

Last week, another model was damaged after it was attacked during demonstrations in the southern city of Porto Alegre.

Models of the mascot have been placed in several Brazilian cities, including Sao Paulo.

The mascot was unveiled one month ago and a its name – Amijubi, Fuleco or Zuzeco – will be decided by a public vote.

Three-banded armadillos are unusual among armadillos in that they can roll into a ball to defend themselves from predators. Sadly, the inflatable versions lack this useful form of self-preservation

Living with cancer

FIFA vice-president Jim Boyce says he believes diving in football is becoming a “cancer within the game”.

Boyce was speaking after watching footage of Liverpool’s Luis Suarez falling theatrically during Sunday’s 0-0 draw with Stoke at Anfield.

“I have seen several incidents and the Suarez incident, and to me it is nothing less than cheating,” he said.

“It’s becoming a cancer within the game. If it is clear it’s simulation, they should be severely punished.”

Words that will be welcomed by Stoke manager Tony Pulis who, in the wake of the Sunday’s game, called for players found guilty of diving to be issued with a three-match ban. For players found guilty of assault or career-threatening tackles, he was less forthcoming.

Suarez, meanwhile, who was preparing for international duty with Uruguay, refused – somewhat uncharacteristically – to be drawn into the row.

“Everyone should focus on their own team,” he told Ovacion. “Those who want to talk can do so, I am not worried about what they say.

“They can keep talking and in the meantime I will keep on playing football and taking care of my team and what I do. Nothing else matters.”

Hristo almighty

Former European Footballer of the Year Hristo Stoichkov is under investigation for allegedly assaulting a journalist.

Bulgaria’s Trud said a Chicago police officer confirmed they had received a complaint from Svetlozar Momchilov, owner of the U.S.- based newspaper Bulgaria Now, adding that the charge was listed as battery.

Momchilov claimed he was punched by Stoichkov during Chicago Fire’s 15th anniversary party at the Chicago History Museum on Monday, after asking him for an interview.

Former Barcelona player Stoichkov, who is now a coach at Litex Lovech, played for Chicago Fire between 2000 and 2002.

Stoichkov does have some form when it comes to his temper. In 2006, he was sued by a former student in Washington DC, whose leg he broke in a violent tackle during a match against DC United in 2003. In 2008, Stoichkov allegedly attacked a Bulgarian photographer in a Barcelona restaurant.

Code of conduct

The stable door might be wide open and the horses may have bolted, but that won’t stop the FA trying to improve the conduct of players representing England.

Football Association chairman David Bernstein is determined to clamp down on off-field behavior in the wake of a series of embarrassing incidents involving leading players like Ashley Cole and John Terry.

Bernstein believes the new rules, which he admits should have been brought in “years ago” but would make it “crystal clear” where they stood.

England’s senior squad were presented with the code on Monday night in a 10-minute presentation after gathering at the FA’s new national training centre, St George’s Park, in Staffordshire ahead of Friday’s World Cup qualifier against San Marino.

“The England players are representing their country, they’re role models, their behaviour is incredibly important in respect of everything else we’re trying to do,” said Bernstein. “I came into this position as chairman with five things I’d identified, one of which was respect, in its wider sense, not just towards referees but player to player. I’m beginning to think it’s the most important thing I’ve got to deal with as chairman of the FA.”

It is understood the code encompasses three sections: one on general conduct, applicable whether the player is with England or not; another on conduct and behaviour when players are with England; and a third on how any breach will be dealt with.

Club England managing director Adrian Bevington said: ”If someone transgresses in a way that brings the integrity of the team or themselves or the organization into question, we have the ability to warn them, or … under significant circumstances to suspend them from England.”

With regard to social media, players will be permitted to use it, but encouraged to behave responsibly.

“Social media can be a very powerful vehicle for footballers when used in the right way,” said Bevington. “We’ve explained to the players that that’s absolutely fine by us but please understand that if you’re using Twitter when you’re with the team you should do so in conjunction with the team’s media officers. When you’re not with the team, clearly you should avoid any criticism of any organisations or individuals.”

Head in the sand

Angel Villar Llona, president of the Spanish FA insists racism was not a problem in Spain – despite evidence to the contrary.

Asked how racism in Spanish football compared to the game in England, which has had two high-profile abuses cases in the last year, Villar Llona said: “There is no racism in Spanish football.”

Asked about the incident when Thierry Henry was the subject of racist language from former Spain coach Luis Aragones, Villa Llona repeated his insistence it was not an issue in Spanish football.

At the time, Villar Llona, a vice-president of UEFA and FIFA, declared that too much attention was being given to racism.

“Let’s not make a mountain out of a molehill,” he said of the Aragones incident.

In June, UEFA fined the Spanish FA €20,000 for racist abuse by their fans during Euro 2012.

UEFA’s disciplinary panel found Spain guilty of “improper conduct of its fans [racist behaviour, racist chanting]” after Spain fans targeted abuse at the Italy forward Balotelli.

But, you won’t be surprised to learn, not a word of censure from Villar Llona.

Last year, Barcelona’s Dani Alves said he had learned to live with racism in Spain.

The Brazilian said: “The clubs and the league try to do some things to stop it. They try to punish the clubs, but it is uncontrollable. It will not go away.”

And then there was the racist abuse suffered by England’s black players when they played at the Bernabeu in a friendly against Spain in 2004. The Spanish Federation were eventually fined £45,000. I’m surprised Villar Llona doesn’t remember this, as he will have been the person responsible for signing the cheque.

Drastic measures

Rome’s chief of police Antonio Manganelli has revealed that plans are being formalised to ban betting on the outcome of football matches in Italy.

Italian football has been beset by betting scandals in recent years with high profile names such as Juventus coach Antonio Conte and Lazio midfielder Stefano Mauri being arrested due to allegations of match fixing.

However, as part of the on-going investigations into Scommessopoli, Manganelli has explained what he intends to do to combat the threat of corruption.

“There are [to be] no bets on the final result since this would envisage the involvement of too many team members, or even both teams,” he told reporters. “People now bet on everything, including the first team to allow the ball to leave the pitch, the first to play a corner, the first to play a header.

“These are events that have nothing to do with the outcome of the match but provide opportunities for making a great deal of money.”

It’s an audacious move by Italy, but given the severity of the problem, not to mention the impact it has had upon the sport, one that should be applauded.

Manchester City fans face a major ticket price increases for their Champions League trip to Ajax – who have justified the rises by claiming that City are a bigger draw than Real Madrid.

The Dutch champions are charging €80 per ticket for the Group D match on October 24, €15 more than for their meeting with the Spanish champions last week.

“We admit that it is a lot of money,” an Ajax spokesman told the Manchester Evening News. “But the champions of the best league in the world are visiting Amsterdam.

“Of course, Real Madrid are top class as well, but this is the third year in a row that we are in the same group as Real. Therefore, they are one level lower in terms of the price scheme.

“The Ajax fans pay the same for that specific match against City. What I mean is if you take the same section of the stadium but at the other side or in another corner, you will see that the prices are the same as the away section.”

Ian Arnfield, who runs the Bredbury Blues supporters club, which is taking two coaches of City fans to Amsterdam, was asked for his opinion on the price rise.

“They must think we are daft,” he said. “I have been to thousands of games, I haven’t missed a home one for 19 years and this is the most we have been charged.”

You haven’t missed a home game for 19 years? Why would they possibly think you are daft?


Real Madrid are mourning a player five-time European Cup winner Rafael Lesmes, who has died aged 85.

Former Real Madrid left-back Rafael Lesmes won five European Cups and four Spanish titles with the club from 1952-60.

An official club statement reflected on the death of a player “who left a big mark on the club”. .

Born in Ceuta, Lesmes started his career with local club Atlético Tetuán, before moving to Real Valladolid and joining Madrid in 1952, where he played more than 200 times. He was capped once by Spain, before returning to end his career with Valladolid.

“The 1950s was the decade that made Real Madrid a great club,” Lesmes said in 2010. “It was made great in the stadium where 130,000 people would come to watch us play – it was made great on the training ground and in the sports hall.

“One day, walking down Castellana Street towards our training pitches, the Ciudad Deportiva, [former club president] Don Santiago Bernabéu said to me: ‘Rafa, now I can die in peace.’ When the fans came to see us play, they enjoyed something beautiful. We were a team that fought, a complete team – it was all for one back then.”