Category Archives: Opinion

Ah! That’s Champion(ship / League, but only the latter part)!

Apologies for the use of the first person throughout this post, but something has been niggling at me.

I felt a little ashamed in being a Manchester United fan yesterday afternoon. While sat next to an avid Stoke fan, it made me realise that the Premier League is severely lacking in one, important aspect that makes football the game that endears so many – spontaneity.

The Championship’s denouement was one of those special afternoons in football. It left you lost, perplexed, and yet, you didn’t care – clarity wasn’t necessary. You just went along with the journey, wondering where you would end up at the end. For the neutral, there’s no finer feeling (it is maybe why the play-offs tend to be the best games all season); for the Stoke, Leicester and Southampton fans, it was perhaps of a sort of masochistic torture.

Ever since that momentous FA Cup quarter-final between Barnsley and Chelsea, Mick McCarthy’s comments in the post-match analysis have stuck with me. Fans of Barnsley have experienced Premier League football, relegation, more relegation, promotion, and now the FA Cup in the space of ten years.

Excitement and despair, those two feelings so closely aligned with one another, consistently experienced by Barnsley fans. As he put it, it’s exciting to be a Barnsley fan, because the spontaneity is always there.

This is not the case with the Premier League, with one of the top four guaranteed to win the division and claim those Champions League spots. Supporting a team like United means that the result is almost predictable week-in, week-out.

When the unpredictable does happen, it’s almost treated with distain by some United fans; the prospect of losing means that everything they’ve bought into has been demolished completely – like losing does not happen for those supporting what is once again the richest club in the world. Well it does, and at times (and dare I say it), it’s a refreshing change.

This is why as a United fan, I live for the Champions League more than the Premier League;  for a start, the Premier League doesn’t force me into a nervous, drunken stupor like last Tuesday. My appetite for the European Cup isn’t just in terms of the history United have with ol’ Big Ears, but because it’s where that sense of unpredictability is most likely to be (in the latter rounds, anyway; the group stage feels like an irrelevance at times). The quest for another European Cup is what feeds me more than another  almost-certain Premier League title.

However, today’s game between Newcastle and Chelsea is intriguing: Newcastle, the masters of spontaneity within the Premier League over the last two decades, could unexpectedly hand the title to United if they beat Chelsea this afternoon; yet a Chelsea win will make next Sunday a day of relevance, even if it may be only slight. I’m not sure which one I want.

Even so, it’s very easy for me to write the above – I know that all too well. But I guess there is something that United for once lack, which most other clubs at least have. Perhaps this is why I’ve gone to a lot of Stockport County games this season.

God, I’m confused.


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Filed under Barclays Premier League, Chelsea, Comment, England, English Premier League, Football, Football League - League 2, Football League Championship, Leicester City, Newcastle United, Opinion, Soccer, Southampton, Sport, Stockport County, Stoke City, The Football League, UEFA Champions League

We’re back! / Twenty20 and its dependence on football

So, after the bane of University work hindering my chances of writing, I’m pleased to say that for the foreseeable future at least, The Sight is in End will finally resume its normal service.

The reason why I haven’t written much is that I didn’t want to hastily churn something out that I wasn’t particularly happy with, simply to keep having content on the blog. Now, that may seem counter-productive since yes, a blog should be updated regularly in order to keep its audience et ceteras, but I’m not a fan of that school of thought.

Let it come to pass that if it means taking weeks out and then writing one or two decent things, then that’ll do me (and hopefully, you). Anyway, I’ve gone on too much.

Before this year, I bet hardly anyone had heard the name Allan Stanford. A multi-billionaire Texan who has been based in Antigua for over two decades, in 2005 he announced he would set up an inter-Caribbean Twenty20 tournament in the hope that he could use the format to revitalise West Indian cricket, and therefore becoming one of cricket’s most important in the process.

Three years later, and Stanford has done just that. Australia had Kerry Packer; India have the deflated ICL creator, Kapil Dev; now England and the WI have their own equivalent.

Stanford promises $10 million Twenty20 matches between a West Indies All-Star XI and England, as well as tournaments at Lord’s that would allow two additional Test playing nations to compete alongside the WI and England, have wooed the ECB into taking him incredibly seriously. All this talk has allowed him to become the man at the heart of the English equivalent to the IPL.

Stanford has promised substantial financial backing for an English-equivalent, providing it arrives within the next two years. After that, he says, the opportunity will have disappeared.

For an English IPL to happen, it’s likely that for Twenty20, counties will have to amalgamate, with Lancashire, Yorkshire and Durham theoretically put together to form a Northern side. I would have loved to have seen Geoff Boycott’s reaction to that.

However, the often ECB attitude of cynicism and ignorance seems to have been put aside; and as seen with the BSkyB Test-match deal, money is the subject that always pricks their ears (don’t let me stop you using the Joe Orton anagram in “ears”, by the way).

All this promise of millions on single matches is nothing when you think that when the English IPL eventually comes to fruition, he could be tapping into a worldwide market worth around $500 million. Twenty20, Stanford says, has the potential to become the biggest game in world sport, surpassing football in the process.

They sound like the remarks of a deluded idiot willing to gamble millions; but with the support of the Asian sub-continent, he could have a point.

Yet Stanford’s talk of overtaking football is forgetting one thing: that Twenty20 is clinging to football. As well as the game itself being easily digestible and over in a couple of hours, it’s everything else that surrounds it that makes you realise that Twenty20 depends on today’s version of football in order to advance. The examples aren’t implicit either — they’re down right blatant.

The TV presentation, the red tunnels, the floodlights, the glamour, the kits made by Reebok and Adidas and Nike, the LED advertising boards, cricketers marketed as stars and given a ‘bought’ through an auction, and the use of the footballing lexicon (Indian Premier League) and talk of a Twenty20 Champions League (that will probably have its own classically-inspired theme-tune (with a hint of tabla) featuring”The Champions!” sung in English, English (with a hint of Caribbean), Afrikaans, Bangla, Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Sinhala and Tamil).

This is all rhetoric, and the effect of it can be seen by how the IPL is a serious plaything for the wealthy akin to the Premier League. Not only have the fans succumbed to the rhetoric, but the wealthy Bollywood stars and millionaires have as well — and how. Football, or specifically the Premier League, has made sport the ultimate plaything that can yield profit and bring more publicity for them.

It seems that where football is going, Twenty20 is following. Whether it could be the other way round in years to come? Doubt it.


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Filed under Barclays Premier League, Cricket, ECB, England, English Premier League, India, Indian Cricket League, Indian Premier League, IPL, Kerry Packer, Opinion, Sport

This is no National Lottery

It’s great to return The Sight Is In End with one of the truly great one-off sporting events imminent. Not much gets me more excited than a Grand National, in fact I don’t mind admitting I’m a bit of an obsessive when it comes to the world’s greatest steeplechase.

One thing annoys me terribly at this time of year, and that’s everyone referring to the Grand National as a ‘lottery’. Phrases such as ‘you’d have as much chance of picking the winner if you just stuck a pin in the newspaper’ become very common in the run up to a National, and it’s just not true! Sure, it’s tough to pick a winner, no one would argue otherwise, but you can certainly reduce the 40-strong field to a much more manageable number before you start getting your pins out.

And that’s what I’m going to attempt to do for you here in my Grand National preview, not so much advise you where to put your money, but steer you clear of the nags on which it would be thrown away.

As much as many ‘experts’ are loathe to admit it, there are some very common trends among Grand National winners which are impossible to ignore – and, importantly, these trends can expose big problems for some much-fancied runners.


The most major factor to look out for in the National is the horses weight. It’s at around 11 stone that the straw is placed that breaks a horses back in a National. Only one of the last 24 National winners have carried more than 11 stone – that was the exceptional Hedgehunter in 2005, and he was carrying 11st 1lb, just fractionally over. No more than about half a dozen 11 stone plus horses have even been placed (that a finish in the first 4) in a National in the last 10 years.

With each further pound of weight, the task becomes more impossible. There have only been 5 occasions on which the winner has carried more than 11st 5lbs in over 150 years of races, and two of those were Red Rum.

One thing you might hear mentioned this year is that the bigger weights have a better chance than usual due to a ‘compressed handicap’. What that means is the difference between the top and bottom weight is smaller, and as such the advantage to those with the smaller weights is not so great. They said this last year. In fact over the last 5 years or so, the handicap has become increasingly compressed, the number of horses carrying 11 stone plus has increased, as has the weight of the lowest ranked runner – and we are still yet to see it bring any advantage for the big weights.

If I was being conservative, I would say that 11st 3lb is the absolute maximum I would consider, and even then I’d still favour the runners carrying under 11st. Using 11st 3lbs as the cut off point, we can rule out the following horses for this years National:

Hedgehunter, Hi Cloy, Knowhere, Mr Pointment, Turko, Madison Du Berlais, Simon, Opera Mundi, Iron Man, Fundamentalist.


One of the biggest no-no’s when selecting a National horse is to choose one that is not of the optimum age. It’s 67 years since the National winner did not fall between the ages of 8 and 12, on that occasion the winner was younger than 8 – you have to go back more than 80 years to find a winner older than 12. There are no real old-timers in this years race, but you can definitely rule out the following young pups, whose time may come one day, but not this year. These are all under 8 years of age:

Turko, Madison Du Berlais, Opera Mundi, Iron Man, No Full, Bob Hall, Milan Deux Mille, Nadover.

Generally, 9 and 10 year olds are much more successful in the race than anything else. 11 year olds have less success, but are definitely not to be ruled out. 8 and 12 year olds can win, but these are rarer occurrences. So 9-11 year olds are to be favoured ahead of 8 and 12 year olds. Interestingly, the hot favourite for this years race, Cloudy Lane, is an 8 year old. The 2002 winner Bindaree is the only 8 year old to win in the last 14 renewals.

The French

Horses which are bred or trained in France are cursed in the Grand National. There have been one or two recent French-bred runners up, but there has been no winner bred across the channel since 1909. There have been two National winners trained in France, and the last of these was in 1867.

So steer clear of the following gallic raiders:

Turko, Madison Du Berlais, Opera Mundi, Iron Man, Butlers Cabin, Vodka Bleu, L’Ami, No Full, Mon Mome, Kelami, Milan Deux Mille, Nadover.


You can never be completely sure if any horse will still be full of running after 4 and a half miles, because there aren’t that many races run over such a marathon distance. But you do at least want a horse who has proved itself to have some reserves of stamina. The accepted distance a horse needs to win over to prove himself a decent stayer is 3 miles. So any horse that has never won over that distance must surely be a major doubt for 4 and a half miles. This eliminates the following:

Madison Du Berlais, Iron Man, Fundamentalist, Contraband, No Full, Bob Hall, King John’s Castle, Tumbling Dice, Milan Deux Mille, Nadover.

Are you keeping up? Well so far we’ve got rid of 22 horses, leaving you with 18 to choose from. Still tough work, but not as bad – and there are yet more stats which can help us reduce the field still further.

Class, experience, form and preparation are all factors which have linked recent National winners. All of the last 10 National winners had won a chase worth £17000 or more, and had run in at least 10 chases in their career. Other common criteria include at least one win in the current season, and to have been given a preparative race over hurdles – this suggests a horse which has been prepared specifically with the National in mind, and all the last 5 National winners have had this last factor in their favour.

Based on all of the above, I have chosen the following half-dozen horses which have everything going for them to run a big race in this years Grand National:

Comply or Die – Of all the fancied horses, this is one who really justifies his support. A recent winner of a classy 4 mile plus chase at Newcastle when carrying top weight, he comes to the race at the perfect time, as a 9 year old, running off a nice weight of 10st 9lbs and has good form against the favourite, Cloudy Lane. He’s the leading chance of 5 from the top-drawer Pipe stable. Has the perfect National winner’s profile.

Point Barrow – Remember him? He was joint favourite for last years race, but got no further than the first. He is less fancied this year, and yet there would appear to be no more reason to oppose him. Falling in the National is no barrier to making up for it at a later stage – last year’s winner Silver Birch fell in the 2006 race – and falling at the first can often be down to the chaotic way in which the horses dash for this obstacle. The horse won the Irish National in 2006, and that is a race which has proved itself an excellent Grand National trial in the past. It also suggests he’s in his best form at this time of year. Currently available at around 20-1, he could be the value of the race.

McKelvey – Second last year, and running on like a train despite picking up an injury towards the end of the race. Has done everything to prove that he can win a National, and as a 9 year old he now reaches the peak time to prove it. Does have to carry an extra half stone compared to last year but at dead on 11st, it shouldn’t be enough to rule him out. If the luck is on his side it could be his day this time.

D’Argent – Don’t worry about the name, he’s not French. This is the only National runner from the bang in form Alan King stable, and he is a horse likely to give you a great run for your money. Fantastic 11 year old stayer with proven class and stamina. Has a style of his own when it comes to jumping, which may be a concern over these giant fences, but it usually proves effective for him. If he stays on his feet, he’ll be running all the way to the finish.

Philson Run – Age is not on his side as a 12 year old, but last year’s 4th is not to be ignored. He’s looking to emulate 2004 winner Amberleigh House as a 12 year old winning the race the year after being placed, and he’s just the type that might do it. You won’t find a more reliable jumper and stayer in the field, and although I think he’ll find one or two too quick again at the finish, he’s a fantastic each-way bet.

Backbeat – My favourite outsider in this years race. He perhaps needs to take a big step up in class to win this, but I can see no reason why he won’t be placed. Another horse at a good age and weight, and this one is regarded as one of the best jumpers around – not the type of talk to be ignored at Aintree, as anything likely to get around safely could have a chance. Currently at around 66-1, he represents fantastic each way value.

And why I don’t like some of the big fancies this year:

The reason that Cloudy Lane will go off a comfortable favourite for this race, is that he has had a couple of serious recent wins that came too late for the handicapper to get his hands on him – which means he’s carrying far less weight than he should be for his current rating. I oppose him because I don’t think he’s done nearly enough to justify such a short price. Favourites don’t have a great record in the National, and neither do 8 year olds. Those facts are enough for me to favour others ahead of him.

As for last years third, Slim Pickings, if he didn’t have enough up the run-in carrying a light weight to beat Silver Birch and the injured McKelvey last year, I can’t see how he won’t find at least a couple too quick for him again carrying 11st 3lbs this time. I think he ran the race of his life last year, and might have missed his chance. I see no value at the price of around 11-1.

Another big fancy is Bewley’s Berry, who was going like a dream last year when he hit the floor at Becher’s second time round. He’s proven he can jump all the fences by finishing 2nd in the Becher Chase twice, but he just strikes me as a bit of a bridesmaid. For such a fancied horse, he has never actually won anything approaching a top class chase. We also never got to see what he had left for the finish last year due to the fall, and his previous form suggests he just starts to run out of steam a bit in the real marathons. If he gets round he could be up there, but he won’t win.

So, to my idea of the winner of this years Grand National. Forced to pick one, it would have to be Comply Or Die.

Good luck to everyone, and feel free to leave comments after the race if I have proved myself to be talking rubbish!



Opera Mundi is now a non-runner for the race, (had no chance anyway, see above) and has been replaced by Ardaghey.

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Filed under BBC, Betfair, Betting, Grand National, Horse Racing, Opinion, Sport

Always let your conscience be your guide.

And the key word in Jiminy Cricket’s famous piece of advice, is ‘always’. Unlike Steven Spielberg, whose conscience, it would seem, is allowed to guide him at fairly random intervals.

For those who haven’t heard yet, Spielberg has resigned from his job as artistic adviser for the Beijing Olympics, on the grounds that China is not doing enough to prevent human rights atrocities in Sudan, of whom China is an “ally” (which means they buy lots of oil off them).

Spielberg’s astonishing declaration included the following:

“I find that my conscience will not allow me to continue business as usual

“At this point, my time and energy must be spent not on Olympic ceremonies, but on doing all I can to help bring an end to the unspeakable crimes against humanity that continue to be committed in Darfur”

So, Spielberg has resigned on an issue of human rights, that much is abundantly clear. I am surely not the only one then, who is at this moment rather curious about the answer to the following question:


Care to clear that one up for us Stevie boy?


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Filed under Beijing 2008, Comment, IOC, News, Olympics, Opinion, Paralympics, Sport

Reality Bites

In a week where it seemed every discussion on football concerned off-field matters, it was nice to see the game come back yesterday with a healthy dose of realism. Whether it be lunatic plans to turn the Premiership into a U2 tour, or hyperbolic panic over whether lost legends would be appropriately commemorated, it seemed to have slipped everyone’s mind that it is what takes place on the field that keeps us, as fans, so attached.

I experienced a slight feeling of surprise that a match actually took place at all in yesterday’s Manchester derby, such was the speculation surrounding it’s unique preamble. Yet once the whistle went, it didn’t take long before I, as a football fan, and a neutral on this most partizan of occasions, was back in the place I know best, a place I could feel comfortable again.

Having taken in the parades, the mascots, the adapted kits, and the wonderfully observed (much to my surprise, I must admit) minute’s silence, this match, far from being weighed down by any emotional baggage, instantly became a classic tactical battle that could have been played out in any era of the game – one that was won, hands down, by Manchester City’s Sven Goran Eriksson.

Manchester United could probably have been forgiven for believing that things would go their way in this match, given the massive wave of sympathy that flowed in their favour, but City turned up with a spot-on attitude and a classic underdog’s gameplan, and upset both the script and the odds.

It took around ten minutes for the game to settle into a pattern that was never really broken. All of a sudden, Manchester United found themselves banging their heads against the brick wall that was City’s five-man midfield, expertly marshalled by man-of-the-match Dietmar Hamann, a realist’s footballer if ever there was one. Any thoughts of the occasion were lost, as suddenly United found three crucial points in the Championship race drifting away from them.

Immediately afterwards, over at Stamford Bridge, the worldwide audience got a timely taste of just what could be coming in their direction in 2011. If they’ve got any sense or taste, they’ll be writing their letters of opposition in Kuala Lumpur right now.

Quite why Chelsea and Liverpool even bother to fulfil this fixture is a mystery to me, neither of them ever has any inclination to win it, so they might as well just take a point each and save us all the misery of sitting through the worst 90 minutes of the season. As dull, turgid, pointless, meaningless 0-0 draws go, this was up there with the best of them.

Between them the two sides mustered one solitary goalbound effort in the entire match – and that was a Peter Crouch header so tame that the big man could have picked himself up, made his way to the goal and saved it himself if he so wished.

My initial thought was that new rules ought to be brought in to enable these two to be docked points for this display. My second thought was that if some yank wants to walk on at the end of this, and insist the game be settled by a session of “added-time Multiball!”, then I for one would be in favour. Bring it on, it would actually be better than this.

Then I paused for a third thought. I realised that this was great. I had endured 90 minutes of total crap, but in a silly way that only hardened football fans can understand I had thoroughly enjoyed it. This was football reality, the game brought down to it’s bare bones, and a match that will bring absolutely no new converts to the game.

After this week’s insane proposals, it was exactly the sort of game that needed to be showcased to a worldwide audience. After all, if you’re going to market a product, then you must be honest with your customers about exactly what they’ll be letting themselves in for, so well done Premier League for not keeping the truth locked away.

Anyone watching Chelsea v Liverpool in one of the exotic locations the Premier League has lined up will surely now feel feel far more threatened by English Football coming their way than we feel by the idea of losing it.

A day that, if Sky Sports and the Premier League had had their way, was meant to be full of emotion, passion, and excitement ended up being dominated by arch-professionalism and heavy strategy. Good. It reassured me that you can take the football out of England, but you’ll never take England out of the football.


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Filed under Barclays Premier League, Chelsea FC, Comment, England, English Premier League, FA, Football, Liverpool FC, Manchester City, Manchester United, Munich Air Disaster, Opinion, Sky, Soccer, Sport, Sven Goran Eriksson, Television

Football’s oldest rivalry must be resumed

When the newest managers of the two oldest international football teams both made their first squad selections this week, the thing that occurred to me was how exciting it would be if they were due to play each other in their first match.

Think about it, as if there isn’t already enough on an England v Scotland match, this would be the tastiest friendly in years; a new England era looking to lay fresh foundations after the unceremonious crumbling of the old empire, and Burley’s Scotland, with the new man under the unusual pressure of having to be as good as his two predecessors.

As it turns out, there was such a match in the pipeline this summer, with both sides apparently at a loose end. This has been cancelled however, because many Scotland players would have been unavailable due to the much more vital business of going on pre-season tours with their clubs.

What kind of killjoys are running football these days? Cancelling an England v Scotland match because of pre-season tours? Who’s wearing the trousers here? More to the point though, why on earth hasn’t the annual meeting of the auld enemy been restored?

Had this planned fixture gone ahead, it would have been the first time the two sides had met in a ‘friendly’ international since 1989 – the last instance of the Rous Cup fixture which was played for on five occasions after the annual British Championships were curtailed in 1984. Since then only two meetings have taken place, both the result of tournament draws; Euro ’96, and the two-legged Euro 2000 qualification play-off.

The reason the England-Scotland fixture was brought to an end was recurring crowd trouble. However, the 1989 fixture was played only six weeks after the Hillsborough disaster; since then football stadia have changed beyond recognition, and these changes have virtually eradicated hooliganism from inside grounds, so why hasn’t it been brought back?

One could argue that that the Home Internationals should return too, but the England-Scotland fixture is one that deserves special recognition, and in fact should be played each year independently of any other tournament. We are talking, after all, about the two teams who contested football’s very first international back in 1872 – the year of the Football Association’s formation, and the first FA Cup tournament. The annual renewal of this fixture ought to mark the anniversary of what was effectively the birth of competitive football, and quite frankly, a revolutionary world event.

Yet we have been robbed of this annual celebration by those at the FA and SFA who seemingly just can’t be bothered to pick up the phone and book the fixture, and when they can, the smallest excuse is found to call the whole thing off. This shouldn’t be allowed. There ought to be a preservation order slapped on it; in the way that no bulldozer is allowed within 100 miles of a UNESCO world heritage site, no possessor of a grey suit should be allowed to faff about with the England-Scotland game.

So next week, when you’re watching the new England or the new Scotland doing their best to get a game out of barely interested opponents far more concerned with self-preservation before the Euro 2008 finals, have a think about the game you could be watching, and drop the FA and SFA a line.


Since yesterday, the SFA and Burley have come out and said that Scotland want to preserve the gravitas of the fixture by making sure the game is played where both sides can field strong starting XIs. Whether this is definitely the case remains to be seen.

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Filed under Comment, England, Euro 2008, FA, FA Cup, Fabio Capello, Football, Opinion, Scotland, Scottish Premier League, SFA, Soccer, Sport

I-gone? Icon Magazine in trouble – and I’m rather glad

According to Media Guardian, Icon Magazine, the up-market lifestyle magazine that you have to be invited to read, was originally aimed at Premier League footballers but then widened to include millionaire sporting personalities and first class airport lounges, is in trouble.

A joint venture of arguably the first couple that fused football and pop music in Jamie & Louise Redknapp and Jamie’s former team-mate Tim Sherwood, editorial misguidance and general incompetence seem to be the reasons why the magazine is struggling, with a development deal desperately being sought to keep the magazine alive.

Even so, I can’t say that I’m sorry or heartbroken that it’s in trouble, since the magazine debatably acts as a symbol for what is wrong within top-flight football.

The idea to set up the magazine came from Sherwood, who believed that his ‘subtle’ and ‘acquired’ tastes were not being catered for by other lifestyle magazines.

But Icon reeks of sheer elitism with its exclusion and pomposity, and is run on deep-seated consumerism with advertisements of supposedly luxurious items that “complements the ambitions of its affluent readership.” If your ambition is to own a £15,000 Rolex watch, you’re a sports personality and you’re a millionaire, then Icon wants you, loves you and needs you.

All the major interviews are conducted by Redknapp and Sherwood, although they usually get someone else to write it up for them. However, in its opening issue that featured Frank Lampard as its icon, Redknapp decides to give profile writing a go. However, it does help that your interview subject is also your cousin:

“As I sat by the window in Scalini, our family’s favourite restaurant, Frank strolled in looking every inch the footballing icon he is…As Frank tucks into his favourite grilled chicken and penne arrabiata, I’m eager to delve deeper into his career…It hasn’t always been plain sailing for Frank and he has shown real guts and determination to get where he is today.”

Meanwhile, Redknapp and Sherwood have also involved former team-mate and friend Les Ferdinand, who reviewed a helicopter that he bought for a bargain £180,000; and Redknapp’s dad Harry, who test-drove a Bentley.

Redknapp’s interview with Joe Calzaghe prior to his fight against Mikkel Kessler is also tinged with embarrassment, as Redknapp compares the sight of Joe training with his father, Enzo, to watching Michael Jordan “play basketball at ringside”.

He also describes Enzo Calzaghe’s gym in Newbridge, known for its sparse surroundings and basic amenities as “a raw place, full of character.” We can assume that no grilled chicken and penne arrabiata was in sight here. He certainly wins no prizes for description or elaboration, either, and it would have been good of them to employ a knowledgeable, talented freelancer who could have at least produced a worthy piece.

Each cover of Icon also features a pretentious front-cover, with a Premier League footballer (bar the Calzaghe edition) positioned under the title ICON, and is usually sporting a suit and looking serious, bordering on pensive. Oh, and Louise Redknapp predictably runs the magazine’s fashion section. Vanity, vanity, vanity. Although I’ll be the first to admit that Calzaghe does deserve the icon status bestowed upon him.

Icon acts as a prime symbol of where top-flight football has reached. A point where it believes it is cut off from the rest of the world and in a class of its own; a point where that the other world around them is irrelevant and insignificant. Indeed, it is also an example of how publishing can be used as a folly to boost egos and self-importance.

Up to now, NatWest have agreed a plan to stop the £80,000 debt – a week’s wage for most Premier League footballers, spiralling out of control (which, to be honest, I find staggering in itself. Shouldn’t the money at their disposal be more than enough to rescue it?). Time will tell whether advertisers will continue to flock to a magazine of adverts and self-worth.

Hopefully the impending failure of Icon could result in a return to the real world for J. Redknapp, albeit for the briefest of brief periods. But I don’t hold out much hope.


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Filed under Football, Icon Magazine, Jamie Redknapp, Opinion, Soccer, Sport

A Substitute For Class

The reason that Justine Henin is able to dominate the rankings in women’s tennis is that she’s just the best player in the world. Simple as that. She has more strengths and less weaknesses than any other player, allowing her to play with greater variety, and thus she is better equipped to deal with more match situations and on different surfaces. That’s why she is the most consistent player in the game, and a comfortable world no.1.

Henin went into yesterday’s Australian Open quarter-final against Maria Sharapova on a winning streak stretching back 32 matches to last years Wimbledon semi-final. Sharapova came into the match as world no.5, the lowest position she’s held for some time, mainly as a result of a 2007 season dogged by injury and inconsistency. Despite the fact that Sharapova has two grand slam titles, and was until recently ranked in the no.2 position, she was a comfortable second favourite for this match. And the main reason why? Everyone knows that Justine Henin is simply the better tennis player.

There are times however, when an opponent’s greater talent can be overcome by the sheer force of determination, self-belief, and will to win. Maria Sharapova has made a career out of this knowledge. Tennis purists may knock her for having a one-dimensional game, but Sharapova isn’t listening. She’s locked inside her zone, building her game around a fierce mental toughness forged during an upbringing scattered with triumphs over adversity.

Yesterday’s encounter in Melbourne was a classic example of a finely-honed talent being given a ruthless battering by a warrior-like competitor showing no respect for reputation. Sharapova gave one of the most awesome displays of single-mindedness I’ve ever witnessed in a sporting arena. Most players would have prepared some kind of plan to try and overcome Henin’s game; Sharapova’s triumph was grounded in a policy of forgetting that the world no.1 was even out there, and focussing with complete intensity on playing at the highest level she could possibly achieve.

The most impressive thing about Sharapova’s outstanding display was the fact that she sustained such a level right through to the final point. Many players would have had an attack of the wobbles when approaching the finish line against a player like Henin, but Sharapova did the exact opposite; her game only improved the nearer she got to achieving her goal.

So much did Sharapova sustain her performance that she ended up wiping Henin off the court completely in the second set. The world no.1 just does not get ‘bagelled’ (that’s losing a set 6-0, to you non-speakers of tennis lingo) in the latter stages of a grand slam. To see the greatest player in women’s tennis crumble in this way was shocking, even against an opponent as tough as the Russian star.

Sharapova definitely seems to have come to this grand slam to prove a point to the many who were doubting her future at the very top of the game after last year. She must now stand as the favourite to take the title, despite the fact that two of the other three semi-finalists are ranked higher than her. If she takes the same kind of tunnel vision into the last two matches, it’s very hard to see an opponent coming up with answers. Justine Henin after all, had none.

The semi-final line up in the women’s event has given us the chance to see tennis’ finest young talents prove their worth, having brushed aside the more experienced likes of Henin and the Williams sisters. It has also provided the photographers with a day sent from heaven, with probably the four most snapped players in the world having made it through. Along with the A-list superstar Sharapova, we have the two enormously popular young Serbs, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic, and the Slovakian Daniela Hantuchova. All four will grace as many fashion rag covers as they will tennis publications in 2008.

It is also an all Eastern-European line up – a most significant breakthrough for what is undoubtedly the world’s major breeding ground for tennis talent at the moment. And whilst we have yet to see a player come through from Eastern Europe with the kind of talent possessed by Justine Henin, the one thing none of these players seem to lack is the self-belief to overcome the most daunting odds. It can sometimes be all you need.


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Filed under Ana Ivanovic, Australian Open, Daniela Hantuchova, Jelena Jankovic, Justine Henin, Maria Sharapova, Opinion, Serena Williams, Sport, Tennis, Venus Williams, Williams Sisters

Munich memorial: Parker and his possible darker motive

With the Munich Memorial / Manchester Derby coming closer, there is a sense of unease in Manchester.

MPs, including the Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe and the MP for Manchester Withington John Leech, are calling for caution when the match occurs on the 10th February.

However, it is the role of the Official Man City Supporters’ Association Kevin Parker, who wants a minute’s applause instead of the proposed silence, which is threatening the occasion.

It is natural to be apprehensive with such a sombre occasion coming up, and with 3,000 City fans travelling to Old Trafford. It is also true that the behaviour of several people could light the blue torch-paper. Being a Manchester United all my life, I have often been subjected to the Munich chants and the slurs from ignorant City fans, who perhaps forget that one of their own, Frank Swift, was also killed in the tragedy.

Even so (and this may seem misguided and naive to some of you), the majority of City fans I know fully realise the significance of the event, and wouldn’t dare cross that border between deep rivalry, which I am all for, into an area that would constitute an act of sheer provocation.

And this is why the unease that is being created and voiced is misguided. The handful who could use the occasion to provoke will be out-numbered by the many who will be respectful, and I fully believe that the acts of the majority will stifle that of the minority.

However, for City fans, where’s the trust? Where’s the responsibility? If I were a City fan, I’d be incredibly upset and angry that the head of my supporters association doesn’t trust the fellow fans of my football club. City fans are in danger of being tarred by the same brush.

The fact that Parker has called for a minute’s applause is arguably attempting to protect the provocative and ignorant few, and also misses the point completely. How can you celebrate the lives of Duncan Edwards, Geoff Bent and Roger Byrne with an applause, when their chances to achieve were so tragically taken away?

An applause celebrates a fulfilled, detailed history (perhaps the idea of the applause, a modern take on mourning in this country at least, could also represent the possible inherent lack of respect currently present in football, but that argument is for another day). But the Busby Babes who perished in the Munich Air Disaster do not have one, because they were never given the chance. It is a time to mourn, not celebrate.

This is an event for an entire city, not just for a sect of fans. Parker’s belief that a minute’s applause would be better for the occasion and for Manchester as a whole, could well represent a more selfish motive.

However, it doesn’t help matters when you sport your advertiser on a commemorative mural…:

Mural AIG

What d’ya think? Utter rubbish? Good point? Provocative in both senses of the word? Tell us!


(Image: © MEN, taken from The Daily Mail)




Filed under Barclays Premier League, Comment, English Premier League, Football, Manchester City, Manchester United, Opinion, Soccer, Sport

Legends Show Their Fallibility Down Under

On another momentous day of sport in Australia, a couple of sporting institutions, who we could have been forgiven for thinking were no longer operating on the level of ordinary mortals, were given a reminder of just how precarious their lofty perches really are. One just about hung on for safety, but another was brought crashing down to earth.

The Australian cricket team, an all-conquering group of national heroes, set off in pursuit of history at the third test in Perth. Having come through the controversy-laden second rubber in Sydney with a record-equalling 16th consecutive victory, a new breed of Aussies were out to raise again the standard set by their predecessors.

If anyone was going to stop the Australians in their tracks it would have to be India; the one team which has consistently given the world champions a headache in an era of dominance stretching back almost twenty years.

The Indians went into this game with even more motivation than usual to try and turn the formbook over of course, with a strong feeling of resentment in their camp after the ‘race-row’ fall out of Sydney, and with a healthy amount of national pride to recover for their army of followers back home.

Despite the sideshow though, surely a team of world-class competitors like the Indians needed nothing more than the opportunity to upset the odds and bring a halt to a sporting juggernaut to get them fired-up. I think this is why we saw no return to playground antics as India stormed to a 72 run victory in Perth; this wasn’t about exacting a childish revenge, this was just a team knuckling down to serious sporting business.

The Australians are already looking back on this game regretting that they were caught committing the sin that threatens to bring every era of sporting superiority to its end – complacency. The most consistent feature found in any individual or team that reigns supreme in their arena is that they never forget the basics; they never come into a contest without the raw materials that have sustained their power.

The WACA ground in Perth has always been known for a pitch that fast bowlers would like to dig up and carry around with them, and yet you would have to look a long way back through the records to find the last time Australia selected a team to play there that didn’t contain a specialist spinner.

Granted, this could be down to the fact that Shane Warne has been no ordinary spin bowler, and certainly not someone who would ever be dropped because a pitch didn’t suit him, but the more knowledgable observers are aware that the presence of any test-standard slow bowler offers a bowling attack the crucial element of variety, as well as a ‘plan B’ to fall back on should the original pitch analysis prove inaccurate. Australia ignored this piece of received wisdom and paid for it, as their old nemeses Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman once more tormented their seamers.

The Australians were forced to admit their error when turning to the inadequate spin of Andrew Symonds and Michael Clarke during both Indian innings’. In a deliciously ironic twist, both these batsmen, when charged with saving their team’s proud record in the second innings, were dismissed by Anil Kumble, the only specialist spinner playing in the match.

Meanwhile over in Melbourne, another apparently unbeatable sporting luminary was made to appear human. The last time Roger Federer lost in a Grand Slam before the semi-final stage was in the 2005 French Open, on the clay surface that he is yet to conquer. The last time Federer lost any match in one of the three majors in which he is undisputed master was in the semi-final of the 2005 Australian Open. To find the last instance of Federer being defeated before the semi-final stage of one of his favourite slams, you have to go back to the US Open of 2003.

In short, to say that the talented young Serbian Janko Tipsarevic was an outsider for his third round match against the world no.1 would be putting it mildly. Tipsarevic, despite being ranked only 49th in the world, is already highly regarded in the game and seen as a sure-fire future top ten player, but any expert would have considered him some way out of his depth against the genius of Federer.

So, when Tipsarevic took the first set on a tie-break, he was showing the potential that everyone knows he has, but it was surely just a brief blip for Federer. When the second set also went to a tie-break, the champion was a game away from going two sets down, yet there was no real concern, and he came through to level it.

Federer would undoubtedly run away with it now, went the considered view; and an early break for Roger in the third seemed to confirm this as true. When Tipsarevic then took the third set after coming back to break the champ twice, the question had to be asked again: “Are we worried about Federer?” Not really, he’d been in such positions before, he was still a strong favourite. And so it proved as the fourth set quickly went to Federer 6-1. Tipsarevic had given us a great game, but the final set was surely to prove a formality for the champion with all that grand slam experience behind him.

As the final set reached five-all, six-all, seven-all and eight-all, and the match moved beyond the four-and-a-half hour mark, the penny finally began to drop for the disbelieving audience that Tipsarevic had not read the script. By the end of the match, Federer was no longer the indestructable force striking cold fear into his opponent as he prowled the baseline; instead he was merely one of two prizefighters, bruised and exhausted by the battle, slugging it out to the bitter end.

When that end finally arrived, it was Roger Federer that was still standing. Just. At 10-8 in the final set, Janko Tipsarevic, who must have matured the equivalent of several years during these few hours, finally conceded defeat to probably the greatest player his sport has ever seen. On this occasion however, when his talent and genius for once wasn’t enough to see him through, Federer prevailed with the will of a champion. Not something that he usually has to rely on in the third round of a grand slam.

Tipsarevic walked off a loser, but having given everyone, most of all Federer, a glimpse of what we can expect from him in championships to come. After all, only Rafael Nadal has even looked like he was meant to share a court with Federer in a grand slam in the last 3 years. It is also worth recalling that Federer reduced the 2007 Australian Open to a procession, winning the trophy without dropping a set. That is an indication of Tipsarevic’s achievement in taking the great man to the brink.

We are lucky to live in the era of the great Australian cricketers and the legendary Roger Federer; to be able to enjoy their skills is our privelege, and we should grasp every opportunity to do so. To see these champions challenged, or even beaten, however, is a rare treat indeed. It serves to remind us all that no one is infallible, and it is that knowledge that keeps every sport healthy in times of domination.


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Filed under Andrew Symonds, Anil Kumble, Australia, Australia v India Cricket Row, Australian Open, Comment, Cricket, India, Opinion, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Sport, Tennis