My neglected blog – 2011 in review

3 01 2012

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,600 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 27 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.





Paul the octopus style F1 predictions

9 10 2010

The oracle’s skills are not limited to mere World Cup knock-out prophesying; here he casts his tentacles at forecasting the Formula 1 final standings

Hamilton, Alonso, Webber, Button and Vettel (not pictured) are all in the hunt for the championship

On Friday morning before practice sessions began, the vociferous Japanese supporters sprawled across the Suzuka circuit, paying tribute to one of the most supreme drivers ever to grace the rollercoaster circuit in the land of the rising sun. Ayrton Senna was adored by the influential Soichiro Honda developing an affinity with the Japanese crowd whenever he hit those shores.

This weekend five drivers are all poised and capable to emulate the great Brazilian and set up a thrilling culmination to what has been an utterly absorbing F1 season.

Here Sport.co.uk gives you a preview of what to expect at Suzuka, the implications for next week’s South Korean grand prix being cancelled and in Paul the Octopus fashion, we ponder how the prospective final standing table may look come 14 November and the end of the 2010 F1 season.

Preview – Red Bull look primed

Table-topping Mark Webber, exciting Sebastian Vettel and relentless Red Bull have been setting the pace again this weekend. In Friday’s practice sessions the two drivers topped the timing sheets, narrowly ahead of Renault’s Robert Kubica who also impressed.

In a crucial week for McLaren, currently playing catch-up in points and performance, the team have so far struggled to make much of an impression. Jenson Button could only manage 12th on the time sheets and Lewis Hamilton, in the wars of late after retiring in the two previous races, has again suffered misfortune.

A crash ruling him out of much of the practice sessions has left him poorly prepared for Sunday and an illegal gearbox change has seen him handed a five-place penalty on the grid. He will hope the notion that bad luck comes in threes rings true this weekend and he can collect some much needed championship points.

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso who this week dubbed himself the title favourite in typically brash manner has been boosted with the momentum taken from winning the last two races, shaving the gap to within 11 points of Webber. He has valuable experience, winning at Suzuka twice.

Suzuka girls

With the withdrawal of Japanese car manufacturer Toyota from F1 this year after eight seasons, the presence of two home drivers in Sakon Yamamoto and Kamui Kobayashi is sure to crank up the intensity and interest at Suzuka.

South Korea party poopers

The news of inspectors marching into Korea is nothing new these days but on this occasion concerns have been raised in the South. Next weekend the F1 calendar has South Korea’s Yeongam marked down as the venue for round 17.

However speculation has been rife that problems with completing the circuit may render the venue unfit for the drivers and it is yet to pass an FIA inspection usually completed months before race day.

It is an alarming proposition for racing fans and the Far Eastern investors who were expecting 2010 would be the year South Korea was added to the four other Asian venues that make up this intoxicating globe-trotting season.

Nevertheless, the dilemma has potentially shortened the race calendar to only three remaining races. Japan, Brazil and Abu Dhabi will host the other three final grand prix. For teams and drivers last season’s memories and results are sure to play a fascinating part in determining who gets pole, who skids into the tyres from the start and who will ultimately be finishing 2010 as World Champion.

Paul the Octopus predicts

If this eventuality comes to fruition the experiences at the same venues last season may prove a psychological advantage. Donning the role of Paul the Octopus we have put two and two together to get the final standings (based on last year’s results) for the 2010 Formula 1 season.

Paul the octopus

If we attribute this season’s points to their positions at Suzuka, Interlagos and Yas Marina and tot them up with their current haul it makes for an intriguing final table with only one point separating the top two. Remember 25 points for 1st, 18 for 2nd and 15 for 3rd.

Webber is in the proverbial pole position sitting on top of the standings table with 202 points. He struggled in Japan last year, waltzed to the chequered flag in Brazil and second spot in Abu Dhabi; ergo Paul predicts the Australian will collect 43 points from the three races this year.

Alonso, currently holding second place, disappointed at the culmination of last year, taking only the solitary point from the three races after finishing 10th in Japan.

Hamilton began showing signs that McLaren’s technical team had recovered from their woeful start making it onto the podium in 3rd place twice yet did not finish in Abu Dhabi. He ultimately came away with 36 points from the corresponding venues.

Vettel excelled when it came to crunch time. The brazen German finished first at Suzuka last season, 4th in Brazil and top spot again at Yas Marina collecting 65 points.

Finally, Button did just enough to hold onto the top spot overall – largely due to his blistering start to the season – managing to scrape together 29 points from an 8th, 5th and 3rd result respectively.

Final scores

Now to our mollusced mate. Paul…what are the scores?

You couldn’t make this up, or perhaps we just have: Alonso can only muster 192 points overall. Button didn’t do enough with 206. Fellow Brit Hamilton paid for those retirements, amassing 218. And so, drum roll please…separating the Red Bull drivers by the narrowest of margins, Webber collects 245 to the 246 of the young German, and new Formula 1 World Champion, Sebastian Vettel!

FYI the final standings for the two teams in the frame would finish McLaren, 424 points, Red Bull, 491 points. World domination awaits the feisty German, team principal Christian Horner and that drink that gives you wings.

Drivers’ Championship: Fernando Alonso 192 | Jenson Button 206 | Lewis Hamilton 218 | Mark Webber 245 | Sebastian Vettel 246

Constructors’ Championship: McLaren 424 | Red Bull 491

Sebastian Vettel number 1





REVIEW: News Associates journalism training

11 08 2010

Here I hope to offer up some of my personal experiences of journalism that could help those considering disembarking society and becoming a career hack. First I review my training with News Associates.

Enough is enough. I’ve been completely side tracked. I set this blog up in the first place with the interests of journalism at heart. Specifically to give a firsthand account of the travails experienced in pursuing a career as a trainee in the media. Upstart Liverpool and Man City supporters respectively and of late David Beckham’s Achilles have distracted my attention. So back to the subject at hand…

I tumbled out of university back in 2008, a history graduate, with the big, bad world sprawled out ahead of me. My dissertation studying the portrayal of the first black heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Johnson (please refrain from picturing the beach-bum surfing, acoustic guitar strumming Hawaiian) in the black and white newspapers of twentieth century America turned my attention toward the role media has to play, both for sport, society and primarily for my career.Jack Johnson (right) no watered down lyrics in sight

I perhaps did not take full advantage of the array of opportunities provided at a well run student union. (See Stewart Maclean’s route to The Mirror and a nomination for the British Press Awards Young Journalist of the Year.) I dabbled in reporting for the paper, covering boxing and football events. Yet there is so much more scope for experience at this level and one should take every chance to practise a bit of feature writing, interviewing, sub-editing, broadcast and radio journalism as possible. Even try to take a year abroad and dabble in foreign forms of media if you are ultra keen and focused. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the finer things in life along the way. Think Gonzo journalism in Fear and Loathing. Anyway, I didn’t grasp every opportunity. We live and learn.

So in early 2009 I enrolled on the News Associates journalism course. Acceptance on the course is fairly liberal but I did attend a one day taster workshop. Here they ask you to sit a short current affairs test to prove you aren’t brain dead (example: Who is that horrible racist man always in the news? It’s a trick question. They want you to answer Nick Griffin even though we all know the real answer is Prince Philip.) There was also a writing exercise requiring you to show you can cut down on waffle and trim a short article into a shorter article (basically just delete anywhere it says ‘that’ and don’t follow my lead on this blog).Prince Philip dashing and lovingly racist

The course is National Council for the Training of Journalism (NCTJ) accredited and ideal for developing the practical elements essential for a hard-nosed, hungry local newspaper reporter. But herein lies the key word: local. If council meetings and disgruntled neighbourhood watch residents are your thing, and you don’t mind your local celebrity being a ninety year old organ player then this course and above all the public affairs (PA) module will be right up your partially obstructed ginnel (that’s an alleyway in the quaint Yorkshire dialect! Who knew?).

Regardless of this caveat, the skills learnt with News Associates are quintessential for a long and successful career in the industry, at all levels from local to national, so don’t stop reading just yet.

  • News Associates
  • NCTJ accredited pre-entry journalism certificate
  • Wimbledon or Manchester centre
  • News writing | Media law | Public Affairs | Shorthand
  • 20 weeks fast track | 40 weeks part time
  • £3,150 – £3,500

As for PA, tedious is not even the word but it is useful, just painstakingly so. The news writing module gears you up for all the local community-centric predicaments you could get yourself into but the exam is an absolute bitch! On average only half the class passes this first time, something they conveniently chose not to divulge until you’ve handed over the cheque. Always remember to read the small print.

By contrast, the fundamental learning offered on this course is shorthand, learnt in teeline with a target of 100 words per minute, and media law. Get your head around the Sexual Offences Act, 2003, defamation and contempt of court and you’re halfway to being hired by lawyer-loathing editors up and down the country. Another essential item to walk away with is a shiny, sparkling folder containing all the fruits of your labour, emblazoned with that pride-inspiring four syllable word: PORTFOLIO.Gobbledeegook aka. shorthand

As News Ass’ managing editor James Toney says: “It’s difficult to get a foot in the newsroom without qualifications, it’s impossible without a portfolio.” Another memorable adage to live by is coined by head of journalism Andrew Moorhouse: “The future might be digital but teeline is around to stay.”

I’ll give you a further insight into how I went about accumulating this work of art on my placements in part duo shortly but firstly a couple of further things to remember about this course.

It will cost ya. Roughly £3,500 to be precise, although there seems to be an early payment discount available these days at £3,150. Why didn’t I have that option!?! And there are two locations, two timescales of study and two intakes a year I believe. They like to do things by halves. The centres are in Wimbledon SW19 London of Henman Hill and Murray’s Mound fame or in Manchester centre. I attended the centre up in Manc but there was a catchment area as far reaching as Leeds for me and the Wirral in Liverpool if you can stand the commute.

This commute was just about digestible as I chose to take the course in small bite-sized, part-time chunks. That’s 40 weeks, a full Saturday and Monday night per week with a six-week break in the middle culminating in a set of exams at the end of each term. I started in January 2009 and graduated (woohoo!) in November. The alternative is a 20 week fast track, full-time, full-paced, frenetic dose of journalism straight up with no mixer. A day out of the five is devoted to placements which help no end with the aforementioned portfolio.

Friends who have taken this full-time hit survived, just. You need to have the funds and energy to deal but they also said the intensity helped get their head’s around shorthand and peaking with the 100wpm. Those on my course on the other hand found it difficult to maintain speed and this seems to be the biggest dividing point between the two options. Both courses supposedly offer sub-editing and sports writing modules although I am yet to receive my training…suggesting potential organisational teething problems.

Richard Parsons, News Associates tutor. sterner than he looks Lastly, a further bonus of the Wimbledon office is its proximity to a fully fledged, leading sports news agency: Sportsbeat. Located directly under News Ass to be exact on the first floor. Don’t let the grimaces on their faces fool you, they are always happy to take on students for the one day a week placement; posting you out to far flung theatres of football such as AFC Wimbledon’s Kingsmeadow among others.

Ultimately it is the tutors who truly sold this course to me. They are utterly invested in your training and have a great wealth of personal experience to bring to the table; be it when they were flogging up and down the M1 to do through the night subbing shifts in an empty newsroom or when they were going toe-to-toe in an interview with their sporting hero or the latest corrupt politician. They are always available for assistance, whether for the course itself or for personal assistance. They understand the difficulties we are facing post-uni, pre-employment better than anyone.

Now if any aspiring journalists happened to stumble upon this nugget of insider information and find a morsel of use within, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with any further questions. Hey, that’s what the comment box is for after all, not just to slate me and hurl obscenities please!





Red devils decline, blue moon ascent. A Manchester in transition

16 04 2010

The most decisive Manchester derby since Dennis Law’s back-heel in 1974 will highlight where success and failure lies in a footballing city marked by a season of transition.

Forget the War of the Roses. Forget the north/south divide. Saturday’s clash between the red and blue armies of Manchester promises to be an epic, with meteoric implications for both clubs and both sets of supporters.

The Carling Cup contest was a classic cup tie with each side going for broke from the first kick. The early season 4-3 victory over City was special for its drama. The 2-1 humbling of United in 2008, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Munich disaster will not be forgotten quickly.

But with unrest and uncertainty in the air for the reds, contrasting with the optimism and financial clout wielded by the blues, this Premier League derby could prove as decisive and divisive a match as there has been at Old Trafford since former red, Denis Law’s back-heeled goal for City relegated United to the old second division in 1974.

Both sets of supporters have had fun with the renewed rivalry in Manchester Victory for United in the powder-keg atmosphere of Eastlands would reinvigorate their flagging aspirations for a fourth consecutive championship. While defeat or success for City would have dramatic implications for their assault on the top four, the immediate future for their manager and offer a fitting barometer to gauge the potential of this revamped, resurgent City of Manchester club.

For both Lancashire outfits this season has been one etched with transition. United are just facing up to a potentially bleaker future of consolidation and austerity on the pitch and in the transfer market. City, by contrast, have been burgeoned by Sheikh Mansour’s billions generating a firm belief in this club that they can recapture the glory days gone by of the 1960s and 70s.

The prospects for this period of transition in Manchester will be clearer when the final whistle goes tomorrow lunchtime. In previous years United have been almost untouchable in the league, setting the standards of domestic football while City were establishing themselves in a relatively new stadium and trying to shrug off doubts over the legitimacy of their ownership by Thaksin Shinawatra.

Since Gary Neville held the Premier League trophy aloft in May the gap between the clubs seen in performances on the pitch and in the transfer market has narrowed considerably. Perhaps this fixture in the coming years could represent a title decider – the likes of which not seen since Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison led City to League Championship success in 1967/68, when United were beaten into second place – as the two clubs continue on this path toward a level playing field.

Uncertainty and unrest at United came with the emergence of the tremendous debt the club is facing Returning to the story of 1974, two years after Law’s goal against his former club, the blue side of Manchester was celebrating victory in the League Cup. It has been 34 years since that day and they have not picked up anymore silverware since – a fact the Old Trafford faithful propagate with increasing relish. The second-leg Carling Cup semi-final tie in January, regardless of what Ferguson would say about the importance of reaching finals, was ultimately about extending this barren spell, delaying Mancini’s men an outing at Wembley that their attacking displays this campaign have arguably deserved.

A befitting consolation for their passionate support would be a top four finish and an opportunity to represent what they believe to be the true team of Manchester on Europe’s centre stage – in the Champions League – confirming their ascent to club football’s elite that their billions of pounds would vindicate and their thousands of fans would demand.

Both times at Old Trafford a last-gasp goal has been the only thing maintaining United’s superiority this season. At the City of Manchester Stadium, the former United striker, Carlos Tevez was the difference for the Blues taking a 2-1 lead in the cup. It could well be, just like Dennis Law in ‘74, a former red devil that will have the final say on a season dominated by transition that will ultimately end in despair for one half of Manchester and celebration for the other.

Dennis Law’s back-heel that consigned his former club, United to relegation




Bitter legacies or best of friends – the top 10 greatest sporting rivalries

20 03 2010

Kauto Star v Denman didn’t live up to the hype – here are 10 great sporting rivalries that did

Here are my top 10, limited to only one in each sport (one managerial and one team clash in football), compiled during a placement with the Mirror.co.uk Somehow I could not find any enduring feuds in rugby and a special mention has to be made for Borg-McEnroe, Benn-Eubank and El Superclasico between Boca Juniors and River Plate. If you want to slate my list or have a few ideas of your own, leave a comment and make me eat my words.

Kauto Star v Denman and the top 10 greatest sporting rivalries – starring Mohammad Ali, Seb Coe, Ian Botham and Alex Higgins

By Sam Rider 17/03/2010

Ahead of this week’s highly anticipated Cheltenham Gold Cup clash between Kauto Star and Denman at the annual National Hunt Festival, we look back at 10 other fierce sporting rivalries.

Kauto Star and stable mate Denman1. Muhammad Ali v Joe Frazier (1971-75)

The Greatest versus Smokin’ Joe. With both undefeated the rivalry was hotly anticipated. Dubbed The Fight of the Century they met at Madison Square Garden in 1971 – with Frank Sinatra famously taking photos for Life magazine and actor Burt Lancaster broadcasting the action – and the fight lived up to the hype. Frazier retained the title on a unanimous decision, dealing Ali his first professional defeat. The consequent rematch in 1974 saw Ali winning by unanimous decision in 12 rounds, thus paving the way for the third and final, winner-takes-all Thrilla in Manila. In stirring up media interest Ali uttered the eternal words: “It will be a killa and a chilla and a thrilla when I get the gorilla in Manila.” The fight lasted 14 draining rounds in temperatures approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit with the advantage swinging between the two greats over the contest. Both were close to death when Frazier was unable to answer the bell for the 15th and final round, after his trainer Eddie Futch, refused to let his fighter continue. A bitter legacy remains between the former champs with Frazier unable to forgive Ali for his pre-fight personal, antagonistic remarks and resentment for his trainer ending a fight he felt he would win.

After the fight Ali called Joe’s son Marvis to his dressing room. He told him how sorry he was for humiliating his father and his family with his jibes before the bout. When Marvis told his father, Smokin’ Joe simply responded: “Why didn’t Ali apologise to me?”

The Thrilla in Manila2. Alain Prost v Ayrton Senna (1984-94)
The F1 greats held a captivating rivalry on the track which peaked in 1989 at Suzuka, Japan, when the McLaren pair forced each other off the track. With the Brazilian Senna requiring a finish ahead of Frenchman Prost who was leading the championship, he tried to drive past the Frenchman at a tight chicane only for the McLarens to lock wheels and grind to a halt off the track. Prost went on to win the season but Senna had his revenge the next year, at the same circuit, where Senna ploughed into the rear wheel of the escaping Prost at 170 mph taking both cars out of the race and handing the Brazilian the 1990 Championship. “I didn’t care if we crashed; I went for it,” Senna said later. “I think what happened in 1989 was unforgivable, and I will never forget it. I still struggle to cope with it even now.” Prost responded on the record slamming Senna’s actions as disgusting and seriously considered retiring after that incident.

3. England v Argentina (1986, 1998, 2002)
This politically charged clash first spilled onto the football field at the Mexico World Cup in 1986. There the infamous Hand of God and a mesmerising Maradona dribble knocked England out of the tournament at the quarter finals. Set against a backdrop of the Falklands War four years earlier and a residing animosity, an intense football rivalry developed. Fast forward to the 1998 World Cup where Michael Owen, as a teenage prodigy, grabbed centre stage with a slaloming run through the heart of the Argy midfield and defence. A tempestuous David Beckham was sent off and the Three Lions fell victim to the scourge of penalties. The opportunity for revenge came at the following World Cup in South Korea and Japan as Beckham vanquished his and his nation’s demons with an emphatic penalty drilled down the middle of the enemies goal. Think Thatcher v Galtieri, Shilton v Maradona and Beckham v Simeone. Becks modestly described his World Cup highlight as “extremely special”. Not half.

4. Chris Evert v Martina Navratilova (1975-88)

For all the fervour surrounding the Borg-McEnroe contests, the women’s game holds the greatest on court rivalry. There was the contrast in styles, but this time between two players who dominated for more than a decade – between them the pair won 18 out of the 19 slams between 1982 and 1986. Overall, Americas sweetheart and the Czech challenger played each other an enthralling 80 times. The 1985 French Open final, with Chris winning 6-3 6-7 (4-7) 7-5 arguably stands out as the greatest. Despite the on court competition, the two remained close friends throughout. Navratilova introduced Evert to former Olympic skier Andy Mill, who married Evert in 1988 and the two greats played as doubles partners at the same time as their fierce singles rivalry. “If you tried to make the perfect rivalry, we were it. Most of the time, one of us was number one in the world, the other one was number two,” said Navratilova in 1998.

"If you tried to make the perfect rivalry, we were it"5. Sebastian Coe v Steve Ovett (1978-86)
The British pair dominated middle distance running for a decade, exchanging records and captivating the world at the Moscow Olympics. Ovett beat Coe to take gold at in 1980 for the 800m, Coe was victorious in the 1500m and defended the title at the Los Angeles Olympics four years later. In a 10-day period in 1981 they traded the world record for the mile between them three times. Their clash of personalities is underlined in a dispute over a BBC film, documenting their rivalry, based on Pat Butcher’s The Perfect Distance, currently in production. Ovett, now 54, suspects the film will focus on stereotypical differences between the two, portraying a clean-cut Coe, who attended Loughborough University, and making him the villain of the piece as an art school rebel. "I heard about that and gave it the thumbs down from the start for obvious reasons," Ovett told national press agency Sportsbeat. "After Chariots of Fire I can picture the intellectual, clean cut, perfect smile Seb up against the ‘working class boy’. It kinda sucks. I prefer to leave the past exactly where it is," said Ovett.

6. Garry Kasparov v Anatoly Karpov (1984-2009)
The cerebral chess cliff-hanger ending was left teetering for 25 years since the days of the Berlin Wall and their five-month contest in Moscow. That grueling battle in 1984 was called off without a winner over fears for the protagonists waning physical and mental health. With the duel ended at 5-3 to the 33 year old Karpov (it was a first to six wins match) against his junior Kasparov, then 21, the contest was resumed in September 2009 as a 12-game rematch that Kasparov eventually won out 9-3. Kasparov was seen as the southerner, half-Jewish, half-Armenian, young up-start taking on the golden boy of the Soviet Union, Karpov. At a time when the Soviet Union was going through a period of great turmoil this classic encounter encapsulated the tide of change sweeping over the creaking, introspective Eastern Bloc.

7. Sir Alex Ferguson v Arsene Wenger (1996-2010)

Fergie’s Manchester United and Wenger’s Arsenal have dominated the Premier League record books. Since Wenger’s arrival in the 1996-97 season United have plundered 8 Premier League titles, 2 FA Cups and 2 Champions Leagues, being runners-up last year. The Gunners have claimed 3 Premier League titles, 4 FA Cups and made the final of the Champions League once. Their most infamous bust up to date came in October 2004, when both teams and managers clashed in the tunnel after United had ended Arsenals 49-game unbeaten run in a match dubbed The Battle of the Buffet. The rivalry will forever be remembered for a mysterious slice of pizza being thrown at the face of the incensed Scot, immortalising the word: Pizzagate.

Le Prof and the Knight. Mutual respect or utter contempt?8. Arnold Palmer v Jack Nicklaus (since 1958)
Nicklaus won 18 majors, Palmer won 7. Jack had 73 PGA wins, Arnie 62; yet Jack desperately desired the adoration of the public that Palmer enjoyed yet was considered the superior golfer. At the 1962 US Open at Oakmont, Palmer said: “Everybody says I’m the favourite, but you’d better watch the fat boy.” Nicklaus went on to win that year, at the age of 22, and made the cover of Time magazine confirming his rivalry with Palmer. In a commentary the famous words depicted the contrast between the two greats: “When God created Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, he turned to Nicklaus and said: You will be the greatest the game has ever seen. Then He turned to Palmer, adding: But they will love you more.”

9. Ian Botham v Ian Chappell (1977)
Beefy proved it only takes a minute to make a lasting impression. Although they never played against each other for their countries their toxic feud remains as strong today as it did 33 years ago in 1977. An uncapped 21 year old Botham, in Melbourne on a scholarship, came head to head with Chappell, 34, in the MCG bar. The pugnacious Aussie was enjoying some vocal Pommie bashing which Botham took offence to. An ensuing melee took place in which the Englishman floored the Australian with a punch and Chappell scampered out of the bar (Botham’s version) or Botham threatened to cut him from ear to ear and then pushed him off his chair, after which the Australian coolly left the bar with the irate, snarling Botham being restrained (Chappell’s version). Subsequent confrontations out in the middle involved homing-missile beamers and bouncers; sticks and stones fly in their respective autobiographies and media appearances are yet to produce an apology. After Botham bowled a particularly vicious bouncer, Chappell spat back the warning that if he did it again he had better hit me because “if it doesn’t I’m going to come down there and whack you with the bat”. Asked whether they would have a drink after filming of a current affairs programme they appeared on together in the 1990s, Chappell said: “No. I can find plenty of decent people to have a drink with. I wont be drinking with him.”

10. Alex Higgins v Everyone
The Hurricane took on all-comers during his fractious snooker career, punching referees, scrapping with fellow players and being banned from more hotels than we care to mention. Higgins was a genius on the baize, winning the World Snooker Championships in 1972 and 1982, but upset everyone involved in the sport during his years as a pro. He was banned by snooker’s governing body 15 times, had an on-going feud with Dennis Taylor and was even banned from televised snooker show Pot Black.

FIVE RIVALRIES FOR THE FUTURE

Manny Pacquiao vs Floyd Mayweather Jnr
Lewis Hamilton vs Sebastian Vettel
Manchester United vs Manchester City
Andy Murray vs Juan Martin Del Potro
Tyson Gay vs Asafa Powell to play second fiddle to Usain Bolt

And here’s another valuable piece of reporting I undertook at the Mirror’s headquarters in the Canary Wharf: “The ugliest dog Oscar’s – see all the nominees”.





Ruptured Achilles’ heel is the final nail in England’s World Cup coffin

15 03 2010

Beckham, Terry, Cole…injuries and melodramas expose England’s Achilles’ heel

As the Greek myth of the Trojan War goes, it was the heel of the great Achilles – pierced by a poisoned arrow fired by Paris – that killed the apparently invulnerable warrior. Now in England’s World Cup campaign, one that seemed so promising six months ago, it is the stricken heel of David Beckham that has all but killed off the nation’s chances of success in South Africa.

England's Achilles' heel has been exposedIf 2009 had been a perfect year for England and Fabio Capello, 2010 will so far be remembered with anguish and dismay. It has taken less than three months to derail England’s previously impeccable World Cup campaign. For all the invincibility perpetuated by the form of Wayne Rooney, it cannot be disguised that England’s Achilles’ heel has been left exposed by unrelenting fitness set-backs and public crises.

In the qualifying season Capello equipped the team with a raw pace and precision befitting of a world finals favourite. The pieces of the puzzle seemed to be falling into place. England scored more than any other European team in qualifying with a coherent, dynamic set-up that brought the best out of every individual.

The Italian even went so far as to say he knew who his no. 1 would be in goal, presumably David James given he played the majority of the qualies. The same could arguably be said for his thoughts on how the rest of the team would shape up.

Heskey and Rooney, with Gerrard interjecting from an advanced left position seemed to crack the ‘square peg in a round hole’ enigma of the Liverpool captain and bring the best out of Wazza, England’s most devastating weapon. Lampard and Barry developed an effective partnership in the engine room and Ferdinand, Terry and Ashley Cole made up 3/4s of an impenetrable back four. Doubts remained over the right flank but there were plenty of viable options.

Team morale was buoyant and yet the national team had an air of composed assurance instilled by the Italian’s machismo.

England's qualifying campaign could not have gone betterNow what a difference a superinjunction makes. The revelations (not like everyone was really that surprised) about Terry’s affairs and unrepentant betrayal of an England team-mate sent shock waves through the camp and stripped him of the armband. Shortly after being cut down by a broken ankle that will jeopardise his fitness for the summer ‘Cashley’ Cole’s popularity took another dramatic plunge after having salvaged respect for impressive displays on the pitch.

Wayne Bridge, the most experienced if not reliable back-up to Cole at left-back, backed out of deputising in the Chelsea man’s absence. No one is convinced about who should start in goal let alone be on the plane. Ferdinand has barely appeared all season due to his vulnerable vertebrae; and now one of the only truly talismanic player in the projected squad has cried off to Finland after rupturing that mythical weak spot on his left heel.

His experience – whether you think he would have played every minute in this summer’s tournament or just made up the numbers on the training pitch – would have been invaluable for the squad in South Africa. He has been through everything on the international stage from bearing the expectancy of a nation to bearing the burden of defeat; from his role in redemption in 2002 to reliability in 2006 he has embodied England’s pride and passion from that first cap to his 115th.

Beckham injury It must be acknowledged that England’s hopes are not entirely dashed, yet. Players are rediscovering form and fitness at a crucial time and with Rooney in the form of his life anything is possible. He is capable of inspiring the team around him to excel (just look at how his club are doing).

However, England’s vulnerability has been exposed as far more extensive than thought when qualification was secured in Wembley last September. That 23-man squad will be hobbling to South Africa, a World Cup most expected would go furthest in alleviating 44 years of hurt.





England’s World Cup squad as Capello sees it – the goalkeepers

23 02 2010

Who should be in Capello’s squad based on his insistence of form?

England’s U-21 squad, announced on Monday by Stuart Pearce, had the revealing omission of goalkeeper Joe Hart. Conspicuous by his absence, the Birmingham City stopper is widely considered the form English goalie of this Premier League, and is likely to be tried out in the upcoming friendly against Egypt next Wednesday, but will the England boss be willing to hand the young man the number 1 jersey in South Africa?

Joe hart must gain invaluable experience in England's friendlies Along with the left midfield the goalkeeping selection has been like the fragile metatarsal in Rooney’s magical feet: always likely to crumble at that crucial moment. Remember David Seaman against Brazil in 2002. Remember Paul Robinson in Croatia and Robert Green in Wembley? Remember not qualifying for Euro 2008???

Forget the dire condition of England’s training camp in Rustenburg, the most pressing decision weighing on Fab’s studious mind right now is who to put between the sticks. Now, in an attempt to premeditate his chosen number 1, here are those statistics for our nation’s top-flight goalkeepers that the Italian vows by so religiously. We will see if the stats really do add up for our man Fabio, based on Premier League figures and Champions League and international appearances.

GOALKEEPERS

 

Games

Mins

CS

Saves

GC

Mins/GC

GC/game

CL 09/10

WQ 09/10

England CG

Hart

25

2250

8

101

28

80

1.12

0

0

0

Robinson

27

2430

9

86

43

57

1.59

0

0

16

Green

26

2322

7

90

40

58

1.54

0

4

4

Kirkland

23

1958

5

61

42

47

1.83

0

0

0

James

17

1514

3

43

29

52

1.71

0

6

16

Foster

8

720

3

18

8

90

1

2

1

1

CS clean sheets | GC goals conceded | CL Champions League appearances | WQ World Cup Qualifying caps | CG competitive games | First place | Second place

No. 1 – Joe Hart has made the most saves with 101 and with the second best goals conceded to games ratio (1.12) should statistically be first choice but is inexperienced with no competitive England games to date. It would need the conservative Capello to break with his traditions to select the nation’s top-flight in-form stopper.

No. 2 – Robert Green would make a dependable deputy. He has made the second most saves with 90 and played the second most games in World Cup qualification with four.

No. 3 – Paul Robinson, attempting to return from the international wilderness, is an experienced backup with the most clean sheets and games this season (nine in 27). He has jointly played the most competitive matches for the Three Lions, level with David James on 16.

David James has been reliable when called upon but his club form is not good enough James is statistically vulnerable, conceding a goal every 52 minutes and only appearing 17 times. Ben Foster has played too few games, with eight, to be considered but is clearly able, only conceding a goal a game and with recent Champions League experience. Chris Kirkland is not up to scratch with 1.83 goals conceded per game and a limited international pedigree.

So there you have it. Hart needs to start. He is brimming with confidence, performed commendably for the U-21 squad in their last European competition, saved a penalty, and even scored from the spot. David James, previously a shoe-in for Capello has dropped down the pecking order. Come May and June the situation may have changed but for Capello, the decision is likely to be one of deciding between experience and ability. He made the right choice with JT. Will he make the right choice with JH?

Next post: I’ll assess the outfield options.