Saturday, March 30, 2013

Building a bonfire.

This past week, England travelled across Europe to contest two World Cup Qualifiers. They decimated the collection of postman and students San Marino had to offer, then stagnated and stalled to a draw in Montenegro this past Tuesday.

Rather than talking of the four points gained, and the position England have left themselves in to qualify for the World Cup, we're talking about racism....again.

Rio Ferdinand, who was ousted from the England squad after the debacle between his brother Anton, and then National Team captain, John Terry. Terry, who was accused, then subsequently cleared, then subsequently charged with racial abuse. A case, that would've had James Cameron claiming it needed speeding up led to a divide between, at that time England's two first choice central defenders.

After the incident, understandably, Rio Ferdinand decided playing with John Terry wasn't an option, and in a move that really questioned the morality of those in charge of the game, it seemed as if The Football Association had sided with Terry.

Fast Forward to last week, and the England squad announcement for these qualifiers. Terry, who retired from International Football after his charge by the FA, claiming his position was "untenable" was replaced, by Ferdinand. How Ferdinand would handle this call up was an interesting tangent to the normal qualms of who was/wasn't called up.

Would he accept the call, and let bygones be just that? Would he say no, after all, he has been treated horrendously by all those involved with the game. He didn't. What he did wasn't even on the radar, wasn't even fathomable in the slightest.

Ferdinand pulled out the squad, citing he needed to recuperate and was on an official training regiment that this would've distracted. Benefit of the doubt, he's 34, and frequently on the treatment table. However, flying to Qatar, to provide analysis for Al-Jazeera. Not sure that fits into a "regiment".

England fans, unsurprisingly were unimpressed. Yet, the way they felt the need to express the anguish they felt is bordering on idiotic.

Across both games, chants could be loudly heard, obscenities, and burning Rio, and for some unexplained reason, Anton - a player not involved in the England set-up, and if anything an ongoing victim in the saga, being burnt on a bonfire.

Is this racist has been the question all week. I question it's racial connotations, i've been chanting that about Swindon Town and Reading at Oxford games since before I knew what a bonfire was. What it is though, is another indicative sign of the continued hypocrisy of English football fans.

After many years of trying to combat racism, campaigning to see Serbia expunged from international competition after the terrible scenes in the under 21 game, and the viscous abuse and fracas that stemmed from Danny Rose's treatment from the crowd.

Now, England, who have in the past 2 years, played a player who was undergoing a racism charge, a charge where a normal office worker would be suspended pending investigation. If that's not enough, he's still lauded as a hero, and the man racially abused is seen as the villain. Their perhaps maybe some racial undertones behind that madness.

Luis Suarez is perhaps the biggest villain in the Premier League, yet his racism charge was found to be a case of translation, and slightly more innocent than Terry. Yet the Uruguayan is the most abused player in the division, at every ground.

So whether or not, racism has been at play in the stands in San Marino and Montenegro, is neither here or there. There's a sheer lack of morals being displayed by England fans, and a lot of xenophobic propaganda glossing over the majority who just want to watch and enjoy the football.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

When your hobby becomes a chore?

Since a tender age, my Saturday's have followed a similar, sometimes identical pattern. I wake up, and have breakfastm shower. As i got older you could add shave (occasionally). Get dressed. Go to the football.

Following Oxford United, i've been to 103 seperate football grounds (104 on Saturday), and at no point during that span of 15 years i've been going, have I ever been less enthralled, or excited for the prospect of Saturday arising.

I'll happily concede we've watched worse teams in the sacred Yellow. I'll even concede the style of football remains more entertaining than the repetetive sleep-inducing anti-football Ian Atkins consistently churned out. However, be it me having a greater understanding of the game now then when Atkins was in charge, or be it i'm apart of an impatient crop of fellow Oxford fans who want success as soon as we can, quite frankly, i'm bored.

This Saturday, Torquay United at home, off the back of a morale-crippling 3-2 home defeat to lowly Dagenham & Redbridge (who sit above us in the table) was met with an increased, yet still underwhelming crowd of 5,700+.

The whole atmosphere in and around the ground was subdued, flat and as if we've all been collectively summoned and this was some form of enforced purgatory. It's not! We pay our hard earned (or in my case, student loan) money to watch this. It's an addiction that grapples with millions of others over the country, but for me right now, it's more a habit than a privelige.

I would argue at this moment in time watching Oxford is like still watching 'Skins', you know what will happen, you'll undoubtedly be disappointed, but you watch, just in case.

A 0-0 draw ensued with the 'Gulls', often a proverbial 'bogey team', but again, especially the first half left a bitter taste of seldom seen frustration at the lack of activity on show.

Sarcasm was the main entree being served in the stands, with repetetive jokes in store for Simon Heslop, the once important centre midfielder whose season has entailed spells on the right wing, on the bench and as the scapegoat for the baying crowd.

In defence of Heslop, he's been forced into an uncomfortable position, was adequate when called upon Saturday, and was far from the poster child of ineptitude in the performance,

With remarks about are never-changing kickoff routine (knock back, diagonally kicked, in touch. In rugby, it;s called territory) all the way through to the baffling substitution that occured. The aforementioned Heslop was replace by Chapman, another naturally central player forced onto the wing. (Square pegs and round holes anyone?)

But alas, it wasn't any of this that really irked me. It wasn't even the spurned chances and dominance we showed in the last 20 minutes, if anything that had me encouraged. It's the complete lack of appreciation which is now being shown to the fans.

I would happily sit here and criticise some of what football fans (ours included)do. However, what should be a given is an applause from the players and the staff after every game. All we receive is half hearted clap from the players and a manager whose halfway down the tunnel and in the changing rooms by the time i've the East Stand.

The complete lack of appreciation, the disconnect between the once inseperable bond of Oxford United and it's supporters (think back to after our 5 point deduction in 2009, the siege mentality we all took on).

It could be easy to cite the results and the performances, and it is. It's no secret, the end of last season was quite frankly pathetic. Two points from our last seven games, then to watch Crewe who pipped us to the post celebrating. It left me sour.

Last season should remain that though. In the past. This season started with such optmism and flair. Then as players' returned from injury. The squad got deeper, stronger and more equipped for the challenge ahead, we stagnated. A head-scratcher to say the least.

A thumping win over Accrington, two away wins at Wycombe and Barnet, and by all accounts a decent, yet unsuccessful performance against Rochdale led many, me included to thinking perhaps the metaphorical corner was turned. I was wrong.

More peculiar managerial selection saw Michael Raynes start instead of the fit, yet rested(?) Jonny Mullins, whose been nothing short of a rock in his brief spell at the Kas Stad.

This Saturday, i'll travel to Chesterfield. I'll take the train from my house to Leicester, then over to Chesterfield. I'll do it because this team of people i'll never meet or probably speak to have more affect on my life than almost anything else.

I'll be there, but to say i'm 'excited' about it, or even optmistic is a far cry. Still beats doing the washing up though.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Trade, the end of an era that never was!

In December 2010, off the back of an injury plagued, hard fought season which ultimately ended mediocrity, and being also-rans, the Red Sox made a ‘splash’.

This wasn’t a regular ‘splash’, this was Sam Allardyce/Rex Ryan (delete as appropriate) jumping in a swimming pool off a 10 foot diving board level splash.

After executing a trade to bring slugger Adrian Gonzalez and his “Fenway swing” to Boston, the big names continued as they inked Carl Crawford, arguably the best player in the history of division rivals Tampa Bay to a monstrous contract. (7 years $142 million)

With these two at the helm, to go along with stalwarts like Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz the team possessed a potent, almost impossible lineup for opposition pitchers.

For a few months last summer, the team brushed every other team aside, a class above the rest. Adrian Gonzalez looked like he could hit a baked bean with a twig, and Josh Beckett was returning to a level not seen from him since his miracle playoff run of 2007. It was almost the resurrection.

Then the calendar flipped to September. September 2011, a month that will be etched into baseball lore, not just in New England, or across Red Sox Nation, but the whole of baseball. The team crumbled.

The team won 7 of there last 27 games, missing out on the playoffs, watching a potential World Series title fall by the wayside and the exodus began. We know this story!

What we didn’t know, is that after replacing the manager, seeing the General Manager leave for ‘friendlier confines’ the exodus wasn’t finished, it was just on a break, a la Ross and Rachael.

This week saw the break end, the team fold, the season finish prematurely and the future becoming the present.

The Red Sox have been abysmal this season, on the field they’ve underperformed (eyes glare towards the pitching). Management has underperformed, with manager Bobby Valentine taking little to no time alienating key members of the team with a detrimental comment regarding Kevin Youkilis. He was eventually traded to Chicago for the equivalent of a broken bat and a split mitt.

The trade that we saw this week signalled the end of an era that never really begun. Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford were joined on a chartered jet to Los Angeles by Josh Beckett (the recipient of many Red Sox fans’ fury) and Nick Punto (journeyman utility infielder nobody will remember) to officially become members of the Dodgers.

However, the Red Sox certainly didn’t just ‘give these guys’ away. In return the team receives Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster (the two core prospects in the deal), James Loney,  Jerry Sands, and Ivan DeJesus, to go along with 250 million dollars (gulp!) of cap relief.

De La Rosa, just returned from Tommy John surgery, a flame-throwing righty, supposedly the prized asset from the deal, along with Webster, who is potentially a top of the rotation starter, and immediately slots in at #4 on

The key to this deal for many, me included, is ridding the extotionate, borderline insane contracts of Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford.

Beckett, who in the past 2 years, has instigated a negative clubhouse culture, drunk beer, ate chicken, whilst looking slightly more out of shape every start, and progressively throwing slower, will take his 4 year $68 million (with 3 years remaining) with him.

Crawford, who had a difficult time adjusting last season, and was plagued by injuries this year will leave with fans wondering “what if?” However the chance to erase the 100 million plus he’s owed over the next 5 years was too much for the team to pass up.

The downside is losing Adrian Gonzalez, arguably the best all round hitter the teams had since Manny Ramirez was in his prime. Averaging .317 20+ homeruns and 115+ RBI’s per 162 games with the team, will be hard to replace.

However, with the team lacking any quality starting pitching this season, and the team out of contention for a playoff spot, rookie GM Ben Cherington sought to get younger players with high potential, an alien concept to us fans, who have been spoilt with playoff berths and world titles over the last decade.

The trade, to me, strikes as a good transaction, with the long term interest, (like taking Andrew Luck in a fantasy keeper league).

With uncertainty still dominating the headlines, pondering whether any other players will depart in the fire sale, If the manager has a job for next season. (let me spoil that, he has) there’s a real sense of intrigue surrounding the team, and gives Cherington an unenviable task this winter of sorting the mess out.

 Good Luck Ben!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

We're sick of your club Kenny!

Eighteen months ago John W.Henry and Tom Werner relieved Liverpool FC of their walking nightmare, ousting the previous owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillet, who throughout their tenure, were as popular in Mereyside as ‘The Sun’.

I remember when it became apparent that New England Sports Ventures were going to purchase the club, telling many Liverpool supporting friends of the incoming owners. Praising their attention to detail, commitment to winning, and the metaphorical  ‘tight ship’ they run.

Since NESV have split their time between their two teams,  the other being the Boston Red Sox, my second favourite sports team on the planet (after Oxford United), the two have been lathered in controversy.

For the Red Sox, an unfathomable, borderline ridiculous end of season collapse, saw ownership change management, saw an onslaught of abuse from media outlets, about how they drank beer in the clubhouse, how their was no leadership.

Any Red Sox problem pales in comparison to the detriment and scandal that surround Liverpool FC. For Liverpool, who in the last twenty years has undergone a transformation from perennial winner, to successful, but a level below teams like Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea.

This season, with former player and manager Kenny Dalglish back at the helm, Liverpool have undergone a quest to solidify themselves as the most vile, disgusting despicable team in British football.

Spreading from racism rows, to callous, rude interviews, the man Liverpool fans call ‘King Kenny’ has managed to display himself as the most hated man in the Premier League, more so than Arsene Wenger, more than John Terry, more than anyone at Manchester United.

Liverpool has become synonymous with everything that’s wrong with football, from the Luis Suarez racism row, where Dalglish refused to blame Suarez, despite him being found guilty of racially abusing Man Utd defender Patrice Evra. The way Dalglish conducts himself in press conferences and interviews, often brash and dour, yet mixed in with an unpleasant, abrupt demeanour.

Worse than all of the managers’ wrongdoings, and the players failings, (the team sits 8th in the Premier League, below city rivals Everton)  it’s the fans’ who have become the definition of what is most wrong with this once idolised club.

Not only are they fans’ who have condoned racism, condoned their managers’ behaviour, and tried to paint themselves as victims, undergoing a witchhunt from the powers that be.

The past few days has seem the unrelented hypocrisy which seems to go along with supporting Liverpool, when Alan Davies, comedian, known for shows like Jonathan Creek and QI, pondered on his podcast, ‘The TuesdayClub’ why Liverpool wouldn’t play on April 15th, the anniversary of Hillsbrough.

With this refusal, it’s led Chelsea into having less time for recovery before their Champions League semi final against Barcelona.

The backlash to Davies, whose comments struck me as perfectly reasonable, has been severe. He’s received death threats, he’s had his donation to the Hillsbrough fund rejected, and has been the victim of a torrent of abuse from angry, naïve Liverpool supporters.

The hypocrisy  from Liverpool fans is matched by nobody. As aforementioned, they condoned Suarez behaviour, citing freedom of speech. Does Davies’ not have the same rights?

They play on the anniversary of Heysel. Are we allowed to mention that?

Their obscene behaviour in Europe, overcrowding grounds was responsible for deaths of innocent fans, and a ban on European football for English team which affected clubs (like Oxford). We don’t bring that up?

They chant mercilessly at Man United fans about the Munich air disaster. It’s different though, remember that…

Liverpool fans have a complex about them, making them the most despised football team in the country. Their fans’ are inept to seeing through their red tinted glasses, and act with no thought when following what their told. A key Liverpool figurehead says they don’t like Davies. So they don’t like Davies.

The term ‘nodding dogs’ springs to mind.

This leads me to my plea. Please NESV, sort out the calamity that is Kenny Dalglish, change the principles of this club.

Send a message that the racism and idiotic behaviour of these so called football supporters wont be accepted.

The Red Sox are linked with these people. Yet they couldn’t be more different.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Bobby's Boston's Valentine

"Bobby V"

Valentine, or Valentines, is often connotated with love, affection, romance. In Boston over the winter it’s meant upheaval, change, and hate.

For the Red Sox, after 2 world series and 8 years of Terry Francona, the time for change beckoned. For rookie General Manager Ben Cherington, his first task being thrust upon him was to find a new manager, a manager who could fill the void of arguably, the best in team history.

As interviewing continued, names in the running, out the running, then back in, with more flip-flops than a beach in Sydney, management settled on Bobby Valentine.

Valentine, once a manager of the Mets, guiding them to the World Series in 2000 (where they lost to the Yankees), left after a very public, very poisonous relationship with then Mets GM Steve Phillips.

Since then Valentine enjoyed successes in Japan and then as an analyst on ESPN before joining the Red Sox.

For the team however, the news of Valentines’ appointment was met with scepticism and shock. Marquee players, such as Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett had been in varying altercations with their new manager during his stint with ESPN.

After WEEI, NESN and various other media outlets had a cataclysmic meltdown, something which happens hilariously often, over the news, Spring Training was upon us.

With talk of Valentines’ appointment being the main source of news about the organisation, heck, it was mentioned more by the media, than the “fields medal” was by Dr.Lambeau in ‘Good Will Hunting’.

Valentine managed to win many new fans with his comment of “I hate the Yankees”, yes it’s that easy. It’s the sporting equivalent of a wrestler saying the name of the city there in. Pandering 101. Rinse, lather, repeat.

Aside from ‘Bobby V’ there has been the storyline of alcohol. In case you missed it, Red Sox pitchers (Beckett, Lester and Lackey) were widely castigated for drinking in the clubhouse during games, sometimes during games they started. Apparently demonstrating the lack of leadership on the team, and also the reason the new manager has banned alcohol.

Heading into the season itself, faced with decision, decisions and more decision regarding the roster, the Red Sox welcomed new closer Andrew Bailey, after Papelbon shipped off to Philadelphia and became a Phillie.

Daniel Bard, the heir to Papelbon’s throne, or so it seemed is being thrown into the lions’ den and being made into a starter. Trying to follow Texas, and their abundance of pitchers (C.J Wilson, Alexi Ogando and Neftali Feliz) in making the transiton from reliever to starter.

Across the board, the majority of last years’ team has returned, except with injuries to John Lackey, Carl Crawford and the inevitable retirements of stalwarts Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek, the team had positions to fill. Oh, alongside the clusterfuck of pitchers being meshed to make some sort of makeshift bullpen.

Most positions write themselves. It will be Gonzalez, Pedroia and Youkilis on the bases. We will see Ellsbury in centre field, and ‘Salty’ behind the plate. The lineup come April 5th, should see Mike Aviles slot in at shortstop, they merry-go-round of outfielders will continue from last year, with new acquisitions Cody Ross and Ryan Sweeney, challenging Darnell McDonald to a starting job in right field.

The rotaton should write itself, barring injury Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz will be the front 3. Daniel Bard should be number 4, otherwise stretching him out to a starter has been about as worthwhile as every Hugh Grant movie in the last decade.

The number 5 slot will see a battle between young southpaw Felix Doubront, a pitcher who has had limited starts in the majors, and has seen some time relieving at the same level. His competition will be Afredo Aceves, the ex-Yankee who stunned every member of Red Sox Nation with his ability to start, relieve, set up, pitch in difficult, clutch situations.

The great Bill Simmons tweeted last year how he “couldn’t believe how much I trust Afredo Aceves”. A glowing indictment from the sports guy.

The ‘pen will see Bailey closing (and hopefully an entrance theme to match…stay with the Dropkick Murphy’s, ‘Johnny, I hardly knew ya’), new set up man Mark Melancon (traded for the superhuman Jed Lowrie) doing just that. Add a cavalcade of nobody’s, cast-offs, and remaining supporting cast from last year, and there you have it. Your 2012 Boston Red Sox.

Good times never seemed so good….

Monday, January 30, 2012

Royal Rumble Review

Even despite its ‘pre-arranged’ results, one thing that makes wrestling Pay-Per-Views entertaining is the element of surprise. No event succeeds in the element of surprise more than the Royal Rumble.

Usually a PPV filled with entertaining title matches, a bitter rivalry, then culminating in the always enthralling, highly interesting and sometimes amusing 30 man over-the-top-rope ‘Rumble’ itself.

This year, the event started with a triple threat match, inside a steel cage, Daniel Bryan defended his World Heavyweight Championship against the two giants of the WWE, Mark Henry and Big Show. The match itself was rather bland, as are most matches with Mark Henry, then ended with Bryan being held up over the top of the cage by Big Show before breaking free and hitting the floor. Retaining his World Championship.

The first match was a slight letdown, yet a predictable ending. The PPV didn’t get much better with the Divas 8 person tag match and a squash win for Brodus Clay over Drew McIntyre.

Next up was John Cena and Kane. After weeks of being tortured and beaten by the maniacal Kane, and seeing Zack Ryder being hospitalised on this past Raw. The match itself was a bit back and forth, and ended with Kane standing over a beaten Ryder, a beaten Cena and a hysterical Eve.

The ending, again predictable, was, however understandable with Kane needing to be billed as a monster, and the programme between the two needing to be extended until Elimination Chamber, before Cena diverts into a build-up to his Wrestlemania showdown with The Rock.

The prequel to the Rumble match was the WWE Championship match between CM Punk and Dolph Ziggler. A match with great potential, two great workers, with the ability to put on great matches. With all these ingredients, the match ended up in the biggest disappointment of the night.

With the emphasis of the match revolving around the issues between CM Punk and John Laurinaitis, the Raw General Manager. With Ziggler, arguably the companies best young star becoming overshadowed, and being the third party in a match he could of made a ‘Match of the year’ candidate.

Then the ‘Rumble’ itself, started with Miz eliminating old nemesis Alex Riley, then seeing new nemesis R-Truth enter at number 3. The rumble was a mundane beginning, and a mundane middle, waiting for the big names to enter the match.

Eventually Ziggler, Sheamus, Wade Barrett (the most underused wrestler in the Rumble), Chris Jericho and hometown hero Randy Orton all entering, after a few cameos from the commentators, Ricardo Rodriguez and the return of Road Dogg.

The field was left for 4, Sheamus, Jericho, Orton and Big Show. Orton defied Rumble protocol, eliminating Show on his own, with most year it taking 4 or 5 people to throw him out.

Jericho then threw Orton over the top rope in the immediate aftermath to Big Show’s elimination, thus leaving Sheamus and Jericho to battle for the main event of WrestleMania.

Sheamus and Jericho both went into a contest of near eliminations, both hanging on for dear life, with the thoughts of “who’s going to win”? Changing every second. It seemed for long periods like the returning Jericho was going to win, then all of a sudden it seemed Sheamus, undergoing a massive push, and becoming a major face of the company, was going to win.

Eventually Sheamus did win, setting up, I would envisage a ‘Mania showdown with Daniel Bryan. The Rumble match itself was average, could have been a lot worse, but at the same time, didn’t hit the heights of ‘Rumble’ matches with returning superstars and debuts of future ones.

The PPV was poor, lets not kid ourselves, a Pay-Per-View with huge potential was mismanaged, underused and far, far too predictable.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Better than Kyle Williams ball handling...i hope

A fumble! A muffed punt! A 31 yard Field Goal. The series of unfortunate authored by the San Francisco 49ers, and not Lemony Snickett, that conspired to send the New York Giants to the Superbowl.

The game, which started so ideally, when a strong defensive stand being succeeded by Vernon Davis 73 yard Touchdown grab. The Giants responded, with receiver Victor Cruz putting on a catching clinic with over 125 yards before the half. The Giants went in at half time 10-7 ahead.

The first score of the second half mirrored the first, Smith connecting with Davis to put the ‘Niners 14-10 on top. This is when the road to Indianapolis became long, winding and further away.

Slot receiver/back-up return man Kyle Williams failed to avoid a punt, with it hitting him in the knee, handing the Giants golden field position to take a 17-14 lead.

This game was more back and forth than Nathan and Lucas’s relationship on One Tree Hill, and the next twist saw the 49ers tie the game up, and spurn several opportunities to win the game, including overtime.

Overtime, nervy at any time, let alone the championship game, where the nerves multiply by around…I don’t know 3 million. Both teams had a chance to win it, they both failed. Giants blew it again, and in the battle of who could choke more, up stepped that man again, Kyle Williams.

Williams (whose received the brunt of the abuse on Twitter, I feel bad for the guy), who suddenly thought he was Devin Hester returning punts, went galloping up the middle of the field, only to be hit, hit hard. The ball popped out, the Giants pounced, the air was sucked out of the stadium. The ‘stick went silent. (Brace yourselves...)

The Giants ran, and ran, then ran again. They could of kicked at ample opportunities. They didn’t. They toyed with the crowd, making them wait for their own execution. It was brutal, sadistic. The New York Giants are the Jigsaw killer of the NFL. They play hideous mind games, and make you suffer and wait for your own demise.

Eventually Lawrence Tynes made the kick. The crowd was dead. All you can hear is players screaming, all you can see is men in white running round the field. Jim Harbaugh’s face says it all. You know he’s thinking what all 49ers fans are thinking, “we can’t be pissed off, we haven’t been relevant in 10 years….but I’m still pissed off”.

The Giants go to the Superbowl, they’ll play the New England Patriots. Tom Brady will try to conquer Eli Manning, in a rematch of Superbowl 42. The Giants ended the Patriots perfect season that year. Let’s hope Brady and Bellichick make it 4, and give the Bruins’ Stanley Cup a partner, and let Boston continue as “TitleTown”.

However, with the 49ers on the cusp of reaching it, it’s a hollow victory being an “improved team”. The team was irrelevant. Jim Harbaugh came in, transformed a losing culture, a losing team and a loser Quarterback into winners. A team who could grind out results. A team whose defence gave up nothing to other teams.He's already said "this teams is not defeated" and claimed "they will be back". He will win coach of the year this year. Deservedly. That’s not the prize he would of wanted though.

Next year will be interesting, this team will have expectations for the first time in years. Harbaugh’s intensity will go from obscene, to veins popping out of all parts of his body obscene.

If only Kyle Williams could concentrate!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Liverpool Fc - The nation's most hated?

In football, like life, racism isn’t tolerated, it’s an obscene way of manipulating and abusing a genetic characteristic, and to be frank, it’s a cowardly, spineless thing to do.

This week, Luis Suarez, Liverpool’s flamboyant Uruguayan striker has been charged with using racist language at Manchester United’s Patrice Evra. Suarez, who has scored 5 goals this term, and lit the Premier League up with his trickery and flair, now finds himself banned for 8 games.

The incident itself has become quite clear, Suarez used a term, which is widely regarded in Uruguay as run-of-the-mill, and not a racial slur. Here however, it’s racist. Whatever the word or phrase maybe, it’s been accepted by the F.A and by Evra, that Suarez was probably the victim of a different culture.

However it’s not Suarez who’s become the villain in all this. His club, Liverpool have displayed an ignorance and reluctance to combat racism, and have instead, gone above and beyond to try and single Suarez out as the victim.

Wearing T-Shirts with the striker’s face on, and trying to create a “us against the world” vibe, whilst promoting Suarez as some sort of wronged “Nelson Mandela” figure.

Manager Kenny Dalglish, who this season has thrusted himself into the conversation as “most vile man in football”, with his ludicrous outbursts and viscous verbal assaults on officials lead the way with the T-Shirts.

Followed by the squad, even Glen Johnson, Liverpool’s solitary black player, donned a shirt.  As a club, Liverpool have clearly advocated a siege mentality, whereas Manchester United, the victims’ (something not said often) are staying silent, and letting the football law take it’s course.

Liverpool supporters have acted no better, Talksport presenter Stan Collymore grouped together some tweets he’d been sent by some Liverpool supporters. The messages are vile. The messages are explicit. The messages are racist. The BNP would shiver at some of the illiterate drivel some fans have had to say about Evra, the innocent party in all this.

Speaking to one Liverpool fan, who claimed “Suarez wasn’t a racist”, and defended the Liverpool fans with reasons like “I bet other clubs have fans like that” and that “it’s not all Liverpool fans”. Aside from the primary school type reasoning, it’s not all the fans, just the 5,000 who went to the DW on Wednesday, the thousands who post racial hatred on Twitter every day.

Manchester United are the most despised team in this country, mainly because of their winning. Also because they have a manager who manipulates officials and argues and moans like a petulant kid until he gets his way.

Liverpool now have the manager, and as a club have condoned racism.

Should they become the nations hated? I know one person who’s started to think so.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Gary Speed!

For many, Gary Speed was the ideal professional. A man whose career, and a glittering one at that was rooted to the back pages of the paper. No controversy, no animosity, just a very talented, humble Welshman playing football.

With this in mind, the news of his suicide yesterday hit many as a sharp, numbing shock, leading many into a state of stunned silence. Ex-teammates, managers and those amongst his Welsh squad mourned and grieved, with Robbie Savage and Shay Given finding it all a step too much, both visually showing tear-filled eyes during the day.

For Speed, who was capped 85 times for Wales, 2nd all time, his untimely demise coincided with him guiding the national team to their most successful spell since the days of Mark Hughes, and the near misses of 2004, a team Speed captained.

With clichés aplenty, and tributes more, the “football doesn’t matter at this time” quote was on offer more than DFS furniture. A statement that really aggrieves me, as football, Speed’s profession, now funds his wife, and 2 sons days, given them financial security for the foreseeable future, a silver lining if there was to be one.

Speed started his career at Leeds, where he spent the longest spell of his playing days, then a short stint at Everton preceded a spell up in Tyneside with Newcastle, for whom he made over 250 appearances for in a 6 year stint. He would than move onto Bolton Wanderers before ending his career at Sheffield United in 2008.

As a player Speed was the first to play 500 Premier League games, he now sits third on the all time list. He won the league championship in 1992 with Leeds United, and holds a proud record of scoring in every Premier League season he participated in.

Moving on into management, a coaching stint under Kevin Blackwell, who referred to him, Speed and Sam Ellis as “the three musketeers" led to Speed becoming the Blades’ manager after Blackwell’s dismissal. The managerial debut was short lived, as the lure and drive to manager his country was one Speed, a proud Welshman couldn’t pass on.

Under Speed, Wales reformed and repackaged themselves as a young team with hunger passion, characteristics the manager displayed, and one the players followed. His captain Aaron Ramsey tweeted how “the world lost a great football manager, but more sadly, a great man”. This, a sentiment echoed by many around the football world, with Alan Shearer saying he had the ability “to light up a room”.

Whatever the reason for Speed’s passing, whatever mental fragility he had, whatever demons he was facing, he put on a brave face, a smile and was always a professional, ambassador of not just Welsh football, but football as a whole.

A man who will never be forgotten.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Jim Harbaugh - The man who turned water into wine.

When the San Francisco 49ers hired Jim Harbaugh as their coach this summer, the inevitable questions of how a coach could transfer their collegiate success into the deeper ruins of the NFL.

Harbaugh, whose outstanding results at the University at Stanford provoked several organisations to enquire about the 47 year old. Staying in California seemed like the logical choice for him, and for the 49ers the gamble on an inexperienced coach seemed like gamble worth taking in an attempt to lift the team from the doldrums.

In a season where expectations weren’t overly high and the team were pencilled in to be also-rans, the team has propelled themselves into the NFL’s elite. With 7th year Quarterback Alex Smith taking the snaps and miraculously making the previous 6 years of mediocre throws and a subpar mentality all but evaporate with every throw.

With a 74.8 QB rating and a TD-INT ratio of 58-54, Smith has dismantled the record books, upping his levels of play into the upper-echelons of Quarterbacks. Smith this season has upped his QB rating by over 20 points (97.8) and has a 10-2 TD-Int ratio. A remarkable uprising in numbers co-incidentally entwine with Harbaugh, an ex-Quarterback’s rookie season as head coach.

Harbaugh, whose passionate, yet somewhat reserved personality has split opinion on around the league, this was demonstrated none more so than in Detroit after the 49ers win last month.

After the 49ers cemented their place among the pantheon of Nfl teams in Michigan, Harbaugh, exuberant after a beating a fellow contender, was somewhat over-zealous in shaking the hand of Lions’ coach Jim Schwartz, provoking a scuffle between the two coaches.

With a Chris Jericho demeanour in press conferences, and a ruthless streak similar to Michael Corleone, except without the mass murder and drug trafficking. Harbaugh, who openly admits that brother John, coach of the Baltimore Ravens is his only friend in the league.
When asked about his coach, defensive end Ricky Jean-Francois just said “he’s comfortable with the way he is”. Comfortable, a word that is often used in describing Harbaugh, as a key asset of his is the ability to remain calm, or if anything become more confident in high-pressure situations.

With his conservative approach in the passing game, letting Alex Smith play the game simply, and let MVP candidate Frank Gore consistently put up video game numbers. “The inconvenient truth” is playing up to his new contract, putting up over 100 yards a game on the ground and adding an extra threat in the passing game, becoming a weapon on every play.

With a smart offence, an all-pro running back and an elite defence, where superstar Patrick Willis has been partnered with budding sensation Navarro Bowman helping him combine the best linebacker tandem in the league.

Add the effervescent Justin Smith in with newly acquired Donte Whitner and Carlos Rogers, and the defence holds up with the rest of the league.
And as the old saying goes. “Defence wins championships”.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Sharp truth

"A touching tribute"
For a sport where it’s players’ are often criticised, the fans’ are heavily castigated and the managers are given P45’s more often than coffee, a rare shining line shone bright this past week.

Doncaster Rovers striker Billy Sharp, who had just undergone the most turbulent week any person could have. For in the space of two days he celebrated the birth of his son Luey, then sadly commiserated and grieved the death of his aforementioned son.

Yet in the midst of grief, dealing with the worst possible feeling any man, parent or person could feel, Sharp donned the red and white striped jersey of Doncaster and skippered the side in their Npower Championship match against Middlesbrough.

Sharp who was “honoured” to captain the side, didn’t stop his remarkable act of bravery at playing, playing wasn’t enough. Fourteen minutes in, an elegant, exquisite volley looped over ‘Boro goalie Jason Steele, nestling in the goal, provoking pandemonium at the Keepmoat Stadium, where Doncaster fans rejoiced, and showed their support for their striker.

Wheeling away, celebrating the audacious finish, the grief-stricken Sharp removed his shirt, revealing a t-shirt where the words “That’s for you Son” lit up the stadium like an oncoming headlight, touching hearts of football fans across the county.

Not only Sharp came away shining in adulation, as referee Darren Deadman took the commonsensical approach to football officiating, a rarity in itself and neglected the rules, not cautioning Sharp.

The story didn’t end there, Sharp who tweeted the goal as “the most important of his career”, continued the form at Portman Road this past Saturday. Scoring Doncaster’s second goal, the entire stadium, Ipswich fans included leapt to their feet and greeted Sharp with a resounding, rapturous applause. A feat seldom seen, yet, like Sharp should be revered.

With Sharp’s attitude and love of football, using it as a tool to heal his pain, it puts into context the arrogance, petulance and sheer ignorance of Carlos Tevez and his refusal to play at Bayern Munich.

Tevez, a man who pockets in excess of 200,000 pounds per week exercised perhaps the biggest crime in football, bar a pink away kit with his antics in Germany. This break of unwritten football conduct has only been exacerbated after we all witnessed the suffering the Sharp’s have endured, and the attitude and love for the game Billy Sharp demonstrated.

Then we see the England team, where the captain’s a racist…allegedly, his centre back partner has a history of drug offences. Three-quarters of the team have adulterous, mischevious pasts, then Ashley Cole who cheats on his wife, treats football clubs with the upmost disrespect, and shoots work experience kids with a gun. These people, these role models, the men children are supposed to admire. A worrying thought.

Although Sharp has hit form and won on the football pitch. It’s not close to what he’s lost off it. Although Sharp can take solace in the way he’s carried himself, the maturity and brave face he’s possessed through this ordeal has been nothing short of heroic. A real role model.

If only they could behave like this the division above.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Theo, don't let the door hit you on the way out!

Theo and the "the one that got away"
November 25th, 2002, the Boston Red Sox raised eyebrows by hiring, then 28 year old Theo Epstein as their General Manager. The Yale graduate was hired to work under CEO Larry Luchinno, but after interim GM Mike Port's tenure ended, the youthful, new age thinker Epstein was given his time to shine.

Under Epstein's guidance, famous acquisitons such as "Big Papi" David Ortiz and Curt Schilling were instrumental in the team ending their 86 year title drought, and ending the "curse of the bambino". With his eye for shrewd, low-risk high-reward deals, Epstein quickly rose to one of the games elite GM's, and in 2005, on Halloween Epstein resigned from his post. Walking out in a gorilla suit, in some sort of "Fever Pitch" meets "King Kong" crossover, Epstein said he "decided he could no longer put his heart and soul into it". A resignation speech that would be a legitimate candidate for "flimsy excuse of the year", runner up to "the dog ate my homework".

Less than three months after the acrimonious split, Epstein returned to Fenway Park, with a new title of "Executive Vice President and General Manager". The terms of the new contract were never disclosed, so whether money was a signifcant reason for his return remains a great mystery.

The past few years, perhaps since the 2007 World Series victory, Epstein's record in the free agency market has progressively worsened, from 36 million dollar mistakes like Julio Lugo being previous horrendous acquisitions, the 220 million committed to John Lackey and Carl Crawford makes Lugo's deal look like cents and nickels.

For all Epstein's failings when it comes to big money free agents, his shrewd deals, and eye for bargains in the trade market is what has always seperated him from average or even above average general managers. Whether it be shipping out the "clubhouse cancer" Manny Ramirez, letting him go to L.A and try not to get pregnant, or sending a bucket load of prospects to San Diego. Them deals saw Jason Bay and Adrian Gonzalez arrive and thrive at the "fens".

For all his faults, and everytime Carl Crawford swing at strike 3 in the dirt, we remember their has been a few, Theo Epstein has certainly cemented himself as one of the game's best, rivalled only in my opinion by Andrew Friedman in Tampa. Epstein was voted #3 in SI's top "10GM's/Executives of the decade"(in all sports)

Now if I was the 2011 Red Sox, this is where i would quit and throw in the towel  (80%). Epstein looks set to go to Chicago and be the GM for the Cubs, who themselves are in the midst of a 103 year drought. A barren spellto top all others. For the Red Sox, after the dismissal of Terry Francona, perhaps the worst decision in sports since LeBron James Tv extravaganza during last years NBA free agency.

For Epstein, the opportunity to orchestrate a championship calibre team in Chicago is a golden one.A world series win their would all but confirm him as a hall of fame GM. Breaking the games' two biggest championship droughts would thrust him into the pantheon of all time great sporting execuvtives. With a sizable budget and big, overrpaid players in contract years, Epstein will have a lot of flexibility with his budget, and could ruffle some feathers early. A certain number 5 perhaps?

For Boston however, a very good, perhaps great team is already assembled, but the annual decimation from the DL, and the odd disastrous signing is what shot the team in the foot again. Perhaps it's time to freshen things up again? A new manager/GM team. Maybe owneship has gone mad? For Theo Epstein, and for the Red Sox, this is the perfect time for a harmonious split.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

THe big NFL preview

After weeks of negligence followed by a stamina-reducing, sleep-deprivating holiday to the cypriot island of Ayia Napa...the one with the night life, i've returned to my native shores and subsequently returned to this blog, which has been left emptier than a roadside little chef in the month of September. No more!

With the calendar flickering over to September, this means the sporting world is undergoing many exciting rendezvouz's, with the Football season now a month in, and Oxford looking like their in the the pack of contenders. The Red Sox after their Paris Hilton-esque shopping spree in the winter are now in the business-end of their pennant chase, fighting off the pesky, irritating Rays. To go along with that, Novak Djokovic continues to defy the odds, and is still in the midst of a sporting year, that could thurst him up into the pantehon of great years.

However, after months of labour negotiations, bickering, arguing nd debating the distribution of alot of dollars, the NFL lockout monopolised the ESPN homepage. NFLPA leader DeMaurice Smith, a silky suit-wearing man supporting the players, who in my film idea for the lockout, would be played by Alfonso Ribeiro, who would co-starr alongside Stellen Skarsgard playing Roger Goodell, (it would be a low budget movie). The two would be sworn enemies whio have to negotiate a new deal before millions of people become unemployed, and the two fo them are forced to work together in the film "Millionaires and Billionaires".

Aside from fictional movie plots though, the NFL season is back, all 32 teams are back, the schedule is going to be played outright, sytmying the fear that games would be missed, and for everyone in the NFL, involved in some form, the dollars will be rolling in again.

Despite the support for Boston in the 3 other major U.S sports, the geographical connection ends there, as since 2003, the San Francisco 49ers were my adopted team, and having undergone Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey and JT O'Sullivan with them, the teams been lower than any team not called the Detroit Lions.

Last season, in the weight of intense optmism, the team heavy favourites for the NFC west, the Niners floundered behind the Quarterback tandem of Alex Smith and his namesake Troy. THe two quarterback consistently put up hideous numbers, to go along with coach Mike Singletary, arguably the worst coach in franchise history, with his extreme opinions, old-school methods regardign discipline and erroneous play-calling, his tenure was worse than the Mike Nolan era, worse than the Dennis Ericksson era. He surpassed the lot, all he gave the Niners was one memorable rant. (above)

Last season saw the dismissal of Singletary after a humiliating 21-0 defeat at home to the Tampa Bay, the first time the 49ers had been shutout at home since 1977, highlighting the anaemic offence the team were throwing out week after week. The team finished 6-10 last year, and missed the playoffs.

New season, new optmism, and with the youthful, highly-touted Jim Harbaugh departing Stanford to coach the 49ers, hoping to replicare his brother John's success in Baltimore. The team still has defensive powerhouses Patrick Willis and Justin Smith, the 49ers two perennial pro-bowlers, Willis, arguably the best defensive player in the league. The much-maligned secondary has undergone a change, the team brought in Carlos Rogers to replace the constantly frustrating, overpaid, turned liability Nate Clements at cornerback. Then the team brought in safety Donte Whitner, rated as high as the #5 safety in the NFL by some scouts. Whitner came into replace the youngster Taylor Mays (who joined Clements in CInncinatti). Whitner partners Dashon Goldson in the safety position after Goldosn spurned the Patriots advances and re-signed with the red and gold.

The defence itself, like lastyear looks fairly solid, and could potentially rise to the upper-eschalones of the games, espceically if the new acquistions can perform to the standards they created for themselves at previous teams. The questions were never about defence however, they have been, they are, and they will continue to be about #11. the signal-caller, the 2005 #1 draft pick. Alex Smith. Anyone who follows the NFL can tell you how important a number 1 draft pick is, yet if it's a quarterback, that player becomes the franchise for the future. The 49ers treated their future with a nonshalant, care-free attutude, changin head coach and offensive co-ordinator annually, stunting Smith's progression, and setting his career off the wrong path, where Smith took the wheel, and started driving further off, then a bit more off, until he's almost at the point of no returns. This year becomes his last chance. One shot at salvation.

This year, like most years, Smith, who carries a 72.1 qb rating into the season, will rely heavily on running back Frank Gore, Gore, on the verge of becoming the all-time franchise leader in rushing, had a turbulent off-season, where the league-wide lockout, was succeeded by contractual negotiations, which at one point, looked like it could get bitter. A 3 year 21 million dollar deal was eventually reached, and hopefully puts to bed any talk of the "inconvenient truth" leaving the Bay area any time in the near future.

Other notables include veteran kicker Joe Nedney being released in favour of another lefty, David Akers. The team also added Jets receiver Braylon Edwards to lineup with Michael Crabtree and create agood 1-2 reciever tandem.


AFC East

Ok, we all know the story in this division, the Patriots and the Jets will come 1st and 2nd, both will make the playoffs, it's all but guaranteed. The Dolphins and Bills are here to pay spoilers, and to the chagrin of the Pats and Jets, Miami manages to upset them quite often.

Jets (wc)

AFC North

This division consists of the AFC champions from last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team who consistently win about 12 games, make it deep into the playoffs, and are always a threat to win a championship. WIth their great defence and clutch quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, i give them an ever so slight edge over hated rivals, Baltimore.

In the lower reaches i see Cleveland outlasting the Benglas for 3rd place, with young Colt McCoy calling plays, i think the Browns can surprise a few teams along the way this season.

Ravens (wc)

AFC South

This depends on the health of Peyton Manning, no player in pro sports is more vital to his team than Peyton Manning is to the Colts, with him, the teams a contender for the Vince Lombardi trophy. WIthout him, they migh tnot finish .500. It looks like he will be out for a few games, and i think they'll start the season with a defeat in Houston, and i don't think they'll recover.

The Jaguars and Titans will battle it out aswell, both having decent teams, with toung quarterbacks at the ready in case a veteran struggles, or they want to look to the future. The Afc south, is a pretty balanced division, where it  wouldn;t be surprising to the see any team win it...except maybe the Titans.


AFC West.

The Chargers have Phillip Rivers, the best quarterback without a superbowl ring, they have his biggest weapon Vincent Jackson back for a whole year. The Chargers will win alot of games, and are a genuine superbowl contender. Below them, the division isn't that tought, I expect the Chiefs to regress substnaitally, after their fluke season of a year ago, Denver's QB carousel, and Tim Tebow drama will thwart them, and you can almost guarantee Al Davis being detrimental to the Raiders. Chargers by a landslide.


Playoff seedings - (1) Patriots (2) Chargers (3) Steelers (4) Texans (5) Jets (6) Ravens

NFC East.

In case you aren't aware, the Eagles have all there chips in this year, they signed Nnamdi Asomugha, the best cornerback in the league. Jason Babin, rejoined the team, Dominique-rodgers Cromartie, and the small matter of Michael Vick, the enigmatic, excitable quarterback. The Eagles have astronomical pressure weighted on their shoulders, and I personally don't see it all being lived upto. With that being said, i still see them edging the division past the Cowboys.

The Giants and Redskins will scrap it out, epitomising mediocrity, with the Giants being slightly better then the Redskins, as the genral rule of thumb, "Don't trust a team starting Rex Grossman"


NFC North

Don't look now, but this is the best division in the NFL. And you want to know a secret. It isn't even close. The Packers are the superbowl champions, perhaps the favourites to win it again. They have Aaron Rodgers, who elevated himself into the games elite quarterbacks. Clay Matthews is still carving up opposing quarterbacks, and creating havoc for offensive co-ordinators.

Elsewhere for the first time in...well, maybe ever, the Detroit Lions are legit. They have the human wrecking machine Ndaumkong Suh, now partnered up by Auburn stud Nick Fairley, creating they best defensive tackle paiting in the NFL. Add in the fact that Matthew Stafford looked stellar when healthy, and Calvin Johnson is ready to become the best receiver in the league. The Lions looked poised to just pip the Bears, and their great defence to a wild card spot.

Lions (wc)

NFC South.

Now i know my friend Tom will undoutedly scan straight to this division to see where i place his beloved Falcons. Well bad news. The Saints are better. The Saints have abandones their pass first, pass second, run if we have to offence, drafted Mark Ingram and are now as offensively explosive on the run and the pass. This team could be a threat to reclaim the title that they failed to defend last year.

The Falcons will outlast the young, talented Buccaneers, and the Cam Newton led Panthers, and the man with the receivers, the nickname and the fountain of youth (Matt Ryan) will take the Falcons back to the playoffs, but with a considerably inferior record to last years' 14-2.

Falcons (wc)

NFC West

Undoubtedly the worst division in the game, yet last year the Seahawks, who finished sub .500 managed to make use of their home game in the playoffs, and stunned the defending champion Saints at Qwest field. This year, the Seahawks will regress, and regress a fair bit.

The Cardinals this year will have Kevin Kolb at quarterback, and not Max Hall, Derek Anderson or John Skelton. The consistency will bear them well, in the futute, this year, Kolb hasn't had enough time to learn the system, and will struggle early, but will come good in the latter stages of the season, perhaps mounting a late surge.
The Rams still have Sam Bradford, the best quarterback in the division, Steven Jackson still running the ball and defensive playmakers like James Laurainits, the Rams are in primes position in my opinion to pip the 49ers to the post, and squeeze their way into the playoffs.


Seedings (1) Packers (2) Eagles (3) Saints (4) Rams (5) Falcons (6) Lions
Despite it being 5 months away, i'm going to predict the superbowl winner, enabling us to look back and laugh at my embarassing predictions in February.
Wild Card
(3) Steelers - (6) Ravens (20-23)
(4) Texans - (5) Jets (17-27)


(3) Saints - (6) Lions (24-13)
(4) Rams - (5) Falcons (14-17)

Divisional Playoffs


(1) Patriots - (6) Ravens (31-21)
(2) Chargers - (5) Jets  (21-24)


(1) Packers - (5)Falcons (34-10)
(2) Eagles - (3) Saints (27-30)



(1) Patriots - (5) Jets (23-21)


(1) Packers - (3) Saints (27-9)



So my prediction is that the Green Bay Packers return to the big game, but are thwarted as Brady and Bellichick secure their 4th championship, and a place in football lore.