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 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


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

Elitist ref selection underlines Ovrebo witch hunt

11 05 2009

Deemed too Norwegian to know better.

A special place is reserved for people like Tom Henning Ovrebo. Just like Anders Frisk, Graham Poll, Robert Mugabe, and Osama Bin Laden before him, Tom has achieved household name status and established himself on Interpol’s top ten most wanted overnight.

The witch hunt began to take shape in the Sky Sports studio on Wednesday night. Drogba set the precedent kicking and screaming and foaming at the mouth and the pundits continued in such vain. On the performance of the Norwegian, the ever impartial Jamie Redknapp (son of Harry Redknapp – brother-in-law of Frank Lampard Snr – daddy of Jnr – consequently making Jamie Lamp’s cousin and an obstinate Frank fanatic and Chelsea convert – still following?) had a lot to say. He launched into his tirade: “Why can’t we have the best Italian or Spanish… Hold on, we can’t have a Spanish one…” Did I mention how Jamie likes to give the audience the impression he has no clue what he’s saying?

YouTube retakes on the Ovrebo debacle

Then you might have noticed him calling Andy Gray Andrew Gay…woops! Was that a little Freudian slip? Revealing some genuine insight amongst Jamie’s typically fumbling post match assertions? Surprised that there were hints of homoeroticism involving Jamie’s adopted paternal role model? Me neither.

If you can sift through all that, then well done! The point is: there’s some blatant elitist referee selection creeping into the Champions League. In this scenario of English v Spanish clash, only an Italian official would have been deemed to have sufficient capabilities, match experience and big game temperament to cope with the feisty semi final encounter.

Poor Tom Ovrebo’s abilities, eyesight, allegiances and all round personal character have been called into question by every quarter since his interesting take on officiating that night. The biggest question marks over his selection have focused on his lack of experience cultivated in the Norwegian league. Albeit, the Tippeligaen, catchy isn’t it, can hardly lay claim to presenting the biggest of big game clashes for ref’s to oversee – what when the Viking’s are taking on Odd Grenland and all the team’s just sound like fruity European beers – but his credentials should be enough to earn him a place amongst the refereeing elite.

The quality of football in Scandinavia should not detract from the role of the ref. They are still relied on to bound about with whistle in hand, cards at the ready, to keep players in check, administer deserving punishments and occasionally, at least last time I checked, award penalties. Then again, Ovrebo’s reluctance to point to the spot at the Bridge does notably discredit such an assumption.

So why was he selected? At the age of 41 the psychologist by trade has proven a shrewd professional. He has overseen semis in the Uefa Cup over the last two years and several big quarters in the Champs Lge such as Inter v Liverpool and Man United v Roma (he gave a pen to the Italians in that one). Earning the right to ref at European championships and even to be preselected for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa show he must be doing something right. Perhaps it is his fleeting similarities in appearance to the referee colossus Pierluigi Collina that earned him this honour. That is the only reason I can fathom in the sudden elevation of fellow slap’ed Howard Webb to top official in England. Bald is back for the men in black.

Collina: bald, Ovrebo: bald, Webb: bald. See the connection?

It appears that Ovrebo’s previous 15 years of refereeing was building up to that crucial semi final second leg and rightly so. Ok, so he had a shocker but he deserved to be the man in the middle on the basis of his experience. One thing we could be more worried about is the increasing trend of English teams getting to the sharp end of this tournament will mean that no English refs will be allowed to oversee the biggest games and our standard of officiating will never get the opportunity to impress. Then again, last time our top man, Mr Poll, was put in the international limelight in the Euro championships for that Croatia v Australia game he forgot how to count so maybe that’s just a blessing in disguise.

Before we find ourselves in a position where no ref is good enough or Italian enough to ref these big games we should embrace the possibility for officials from the third world of league football to earn the right to oversee the games on the biggest stage. Until we have video technology, the rest is up to them and they will have to deal with any consequences…or be gagged and go into hiding until it all blows over.

But let’s be honest, Chelsea should have sealed the tie long before Ovrebo lost his bottle and forgot what a penalty was, so perhaps they’ve only got themselves to blame. And next time, Abramovich should dig deeper into his gold lined pockets and offer a bribe more attractive to the Norwegian.

‘Top four’ myth of the Premier League

22 03 2009

In response to the predictable grumbles that the Premier League has reverted to its boring tag, as the ‘top four’ dominate everything, I felt compelled to investigate and compare this predicament to overseas leagues.

This predominance of certain teams at the top of their tables affects all the best competitions in Europe, without fail. Nevertheless, Liverpool are an exception. They are invariably in or about the top of the league but have failed to finish first for verging on two decades now. So why does this trend of dominance occur? It may seem a little obvious, but success breeds success. And in this day and age, that means money, ensuring they remain at the top of the table.

Sky Sports' marketing campaign relies on the popularity of the clash between the 'big four'

As the leading domestic competitions of England, Spain and Italy illustrate, there are always dominant teams that compete for the trophy who excel more than the rest and move away from the chasing pack.

In England, despite the Red Devils’ dominance, the last eight years have seen the trophy been shared more evenly between Manchester United (four), Chelsea (two) and Arsenal (two). Although these three and Liverpool are regularly at the summit of the league, the latter’s singular success coming 18 years ago suggests that their status in the top four has not been decisive. Verdict: ‘Big Three’ unless Liverpool can overtake Manchester United in the remaining two months of the season.


In Spain, the two giants of the game, Real Madrid and Barcelona have traded blows and first places by a long distance from any other team with eight a piece in the last 20 years. Teams like Sevilla, Villarreal and Atletico Madrid, who are in and around the top of the table now, have struggled to turn this position into league winning campaigns. Valencia have been unable to rediscover the champion winning form of 2004 and find themselves in mid-table. Verdict: only really a ‘Big Two’.

In Italy, Milan, Juventus and Inter have shared the spoils fairly evenly for the last 20 years. Despite Juve being relegated in 2006 for match fixing, they have restored their status as one of the top teams in Italy this season, currently sitting a few points adrift of Inter in second, with Milan not far behind. Yet the past glories for Roma, Lazio, Napoli and Sampdoria appear to be merely fleeting moments of glory and they cannot make their presence felt at the top. Verdict: dominance of the ‘Big Three’ European heavy-weights.

Pie charts better

The  global recognition of the game has gone into hyper-drive since the turn of the century, meaning that the dominant teams with the history of glorious eras have been exalted above all other teams who have not received such recognition. Therefore, financial investment from the high rollers with the biggest bank balances have come calling to Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and Anfield first. The top clubs on the continent have investment from the actual government or whole communities as if they were a religious institution. AC Milan are owned by the Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi no less, and Real Madrid’s huge debts were wiped by the city itself buying their training facilities from the club at astronomical expense and then leasing it back to the club. So clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona and AC Milan, whose histories are steeped in unwavering glory, have likewise, been elevated to higher plains than their competition can cope with.

Ultimately, the modern game showers financial success upon the clubs whose past glories draw in the biggest crowds, the most sought after talent and the most privileged economic investment available – thereby solidifying their status at the top of the table – with consistent seasons in the Champions League evident of such stature. As a marketing goldmine, these teams have been built up as a global enterprise, crossing the boundaries between sporting recreation and lucrative business brands. Thus, they have become recognised by the companies fighting for TV rights (Sky/Setanta), and the billionaires looking for global investment, finding them adorned with the corporate tag of being the ‘big’ boys of the league.

So stop complaining about this establishment of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal as the top teams in the league. They are there because they are the top team in the league. If they were not there it would mean that the best teams were not playing the brilliant football they are capable of. Realise that Liverpool are yet to be truly deserving of this title during the Premier League’s lifespan and be grateful that there are at least three teams capable of taking the top spot.

So, as Fulham and Tottenham have shown recently, the other teams in the league must seize on any off day for the teams at the top. The onus is on these teams to step up to the plate. Take note Villa!

Football pundits – Ultimate XI

18 03 2009

The best pundits, critics, presenters and commentators for the game we all know and love.

As you may have noticed, I have a bit of an issue with ex-professional sportsmen just hanging up their boots, walking into a newsroom, and being handed a top quality job on a plate. I mean John Barnes is the most hopeless pundit there has been on TV, even if it was only on channel Five, and David Pleat doesn’t have a clue but just loves messing about with that chalkboard feature at The Guardian.

But anyway, I decided to set this feud aside for the moment, and evaluate the contributions of those in the media to our football viewing pleasure. Who do we appreciate (see below) and who are best forgotten (see above and Mark Lawrenson).

Don't worry, these three fools didn't make the cut

BOB PRIMROSE WILSON (GK) – A stalwart of British football broadcasting on BBC and ITV. His dignified refined manner and caring charitable spirit have earned him an OBE, yet with a middle name being the source of ridicule in the past, a savage side boils just under the surface. A keeper with a complex makes a much more dangerous proposition, so don’t expect any charity in the commentary box Lowro or to get away with any mumblings from Mr Pleat. He won’t take no shit.

ALAN HANSEN (CB) – A wise old head at the back who is still repenting for his comments: “You’ll never win anything with kids”. But thereby lies his value. He’d have plenty to prove to the young start ups coming into the punditry world like that Jamie ‘one suit, Andy Gray suck up’ Redknapp.

MARCEL DESAILLY (CB) – With heart on his sleeve performances and sheer jubilance on the touch lines before a big game, it is clear he’s just happy to be there. Rubbing shoulders with a plethora of footballing greats across Europe and Africa, he has combined a French panache with his Ghanaian gusto to enthrall viewers the world over.

Soccer AM’s TIM LOVEJOY and HELEN CHAMBERLAIN (RB and LB) – Their partnership for the better side of a decade on the Saturday morning show, witnessed more often than is healthy with a pounding dehydrating hang over, did more to whet the appetite for a weekend of football festivities than a lifetime supply of gobstoppers. With these two flanking the hard nuts in the centre, their enthusiasm and joviality would invigorate the Pundit XI, though their repeated attempts at the Cross-Bar challenge could disrupt proceedings slightly.

Tim Lovejoy. Helen Chamberlain. Enough said.

JEFF STELLING (Captain and CM) – With a patented drinking game and forays into day time TV on Countdown, Jeff’s international recognition would be priceless for shirt sales and merchandising. His ability to orchestrate his comrades every frantic Saturday afternoon and his loyal devotion to his hometown club Hartlepool have solidified his symbolic stature and role model capabilities for generations to come.

CHRIS KAMARA (CM) – “It’s unbelievable Jeff!” Chris Kamara truly is just that. A hard man on the pitch and a nutter off it, he has the ability to excite even the most mundane of Middlesbrough matches and his off camera antics would keep studio morale on the up even when the bitter Hansen tries to douse it.

MATT LE TISSIER (RW) – A spot kick expert, he is generally spot-on when it comes to crunch time. With a formidable gut, you know he could handle his bitter on the South coast (better than his weathered colleague Paul Merson), and his aptness for the majestic has been carried over from his playing days to the Soccer Saturday live-commentary team, excelling where the mere mortals of Charlie Nickolas and Phil Thompson simply cannot compete.

GUILLEM BALAGUE (LW) – To satiate Sepp Bleater, we’ve rationed the foreign imports to just two, but drawn the cultured penmanship and multi-lingual abilities of Guillem to these shores. He may like to share a bed with Rafa the gaffer at his beloved Liverpool, but as a shrewd tactician with a continental craftiness, he would be in the know for those vital European fixtures and have the tricks up his sleeve to mesmerise the audience with his Catalan control of the mic. GOOOOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLLLLLL.

Jeff and Chris show just how its done on Sky Sports Soccer Saturday

ANDY GRAY (CF) – He may be a biased bastard but he sure knows a thing or two about the game and can be relied on to have the final astute word. Sky are reportedly throwing 20 grand a week at him and have even introduced that fool Redknapp to whisper sweet nothings in his ear and keep him sweet. Golden Boots, Young Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year during his career and a renowned playboy and womanizer off the pitch underline his value to our Pundit XI. Take a bow, son.

MARTIN TYLER (CF) – Like bangers and mash, Torvill and Dean, Kylie and hot pants, the combination of Gray and Tyler makes as much sense as it does quality punditry. Their harmonious collaborations provide perfect symmetry to the football game. As a striking double act for a Commentators XI charity game, in which he scored from an Andy Gray cross, underlines their potency in spearheading this team against all the young pretenders of Setanta and ITV.

DES LYNAM (Manager) – Old Des needs no introducing. His presenting skills span a multitude of formats, fermenting his talents on Match of the Day, before the big eared Lineker filled his boots; a favourite amongst the ladies, young and old, has seen him hold the allure of the feisty Vorderman on Countdown, before Jeff bumped her for a younger model. Similarly to Wilson, an OBE has been his reward for his charismatic performances on the box. And his enigmatic charm, of which Mourinho would be proud, would captivate the press room and inspire the pundit’s dressing room alike. All in a day’s work for Des and his boys.

Sonya Says: England must learn from mistakes or fear punishment

4 03 2009

The rage on Martin Johnson’s face said it all.

The pure venom and anger, produced out of frustration and despair. The utter contempt for his players and their stupidity. The exasperation and infuriation. And above all, the realisation that he would have to face another inquisition after the game from the BBC’s rugby interviewer, known simply as Sonya.

After Danny ‘Careless’ Care got the second sin-binning of the game for England versus Ireland, I decided I cannot ignore the national sides current predicament any longer. I wished to see improvements. I longed to see that winning way and battling mentality and exciting rugby I remember not so long ago. I wished to see these individuals show their true potential. But all I can see are the same mistakes repeating themselves time and time again, and it is becoming embarrassing.

Before the Ireland game as I understand it, England had the unfortunate record of 8 yellow cards in 10 games. Now it stands at something like 10 sin-bins in 4 games. To quote a plethora of pundits and commentators of the game – it is “unforgivable”.

The expression on Martin Johnson's face says it all

When presented with these stats, the same sorry excuses and mutterings have been heard over and over. “We let ourselves down. Everyone is hurting. We know we have thrown away another test match there for the winning. We’ve got to work on discipline.” But this Sonya lady wasted little time in cutting straight through the bull shit: “It is not sinking in,” she retorted to the forlorn Steve Borthwick after Saturday night’s defeat. She’s got a point.

The same ruthless conclusions were delivered to the man in charge, Johnson, with equal bravado. “Thank you for your honesty,” she said as Johnson trudged away from another grilling interview, having to take the brunt of scrutiny for his charges inadequacies. The courage and at times cheek this lady is able to conjure up makes watching these BBC productions compelling, if not for the quality of rugby. She is developing something bordering on cult status in asking such probing questions, whilst craning up at these 6 ft 8 plus colossuses in front of her, fuming and hurting and ready to rampage around the dressing room.

As for those who repeatedly cut dejected figures in the harsh light of day after another inexplicably stupid display, where can they possibly go?

It is clearly hurting the players and staff, but they simply have no one else to blame. The ghost is up as far as winning the Six Nations goes. If that does not present an opportunity to go for broke in mixing up tactics and team selection, then Johnson must accept that this game of management is clearly not where he belongs.

After such a mammoth display in the England white and Leicester green during his glittering playing career, it would take a brave man to tell him his time is up. Maybe Sonya’s expertise could be drawn on for such a task. Yet, this is not the football Barclay’s Premiership. He should not be axed so soon, if not for the simple fact that this England side has not been anywhere near the mantle of ‘world beaters’ for many years now.

Even in reaching the World Cup final in 2007, that feat was only stumbled upon through a form of grinding, defensive rugby that is no longer suitable for the elite rugby New Zealand, South Africa and even Wales specialise in. As the national side slumped to eighth in the latest world rankings, their demise has never been more obvious, and a need for reappraisal more urgent.

So Johnson, Mike Ford (defence coach), Brian Smith (attack coach) and co. must take a few strides back, consult their overly relied on drawing board, and reassess the players they have selected. For the problem the England team is facing can only be solved through the application of more brain and less mindless, incompetent brawn.

England's forlorn players realise defeat at the hands of Ireland after more self-inflicted errors

England flanker, James Haskell, in his column for the Guardian, wrote that over-eagerness is to blame for giving away penalties as a symptom of their ill-discipline. If such excitement and desire to be do-gooders is interfering with the synapses to such an extent, then perhaps their powerade and lucozade should be supplemented with herbal tea remedies to relax them into a game. The referee downright telling them not to play the ball on the ground is clearly not getting through their thick skull-caps.

“Because we haven’t been playing the quality of rugby we’d ideally like to be producing, people have been chasing the game trying to make things happen,” Wrote Haskell. “In such circumstances it’s easy to over-step the mark and, in my opinion, that’s why people have been getting carried away. Over-eagerness, over-anxiety … call it what you like, we’ve been trying to force the game.”

He said he had been in angrier dressing rooms…well why? Johnson should have been fuming beyond human recognition. He should have been breathing fire, hurling bodies out the way, knocking sense into the incompetent fools who are undermining what should be his glorious reign as coach and tarnishing the name that he established for himself as captain.

This team seems to think it acceptable to continually throw away games and let themselves down. Phil Vickery, who was guilty of drawing the first yellow card of the game at Croke Park, above anyone, should be inconsolable at witnessing such demise in form of the English rugby team’s reputation.

He has been in an England team at the peak of its abilities in 2003 and shown his undeniable abilities to get them there. Yet now it appears his weary limbs and his wearier mind would rather languish in the sin-bin than trundle across the park to the breakdown. He has countless times, fumbled about for the ball or tied up the player on the ground so as to slow the game to the pace he can still handle. As a former captain, before Borthwick’s ill-advised selection in my mind, what kind of example must he be setting for his younger prodigies?

Sir Clive Woodward’s name has been thrown up consistently for comparison. Since he guided the team, or forced as may be more accurate, to winning in Australia in 2003, and was there for the years of hard graft that ensured this assent to the world title, his story has been one seen as a basis for success. When his reaction to Englan’s woes was sought after the game, the conclusion was that these performances would have been utterly unacceptable with him in charge.

Phil Vickery should know better as the former captain gets sin-binned undermining the team's chances of winning

Players would have been dropped instantly for conceding penalties let alone being sin-binned, yet Johnson resists wholesale changes and has handed out more than one second chance to players in the Vickery mould. In contrast, the creative flair players like Danny Cipriani, guilty for his errors in having kicks charged down, have been removed from the firing line, for the time being at least.

This is suggested to be in the hope that a stability of being hard to beat will evolve within his England team. Only then can the exciting players on show in the Guinness Premiership be introduced and efforts to play fast paced, flowing, expansive rugby can be attempted. But the question remains as Woodward pointed out: is the inexperienced coach Johnson, finding himself in his first job since retiring from playing, the man that can teach his players the discipline needed to win in this style?

“It is very difficult having to learn coaching in international rugby,” surveyed Woodward following the defeat in Ireland. “You can talk about discipline and not giving away penalties but it can be coached. It is a question of whether Martin and his coaching team understand that because Martin has never coached before.”

All this points to one place: the old chestnut of the drawing board. The culprits of repeat-offences within the playing staff must either move out the way, or reappraise how they are playing the game. They must realise they have to learn from their errors, or fear punishments and being stripped of their place if they don’t.

As for the coaching staff, they have to start laying down the law to those who insist on undermining the team by being binned. They must look for the clever players and wise heads on young shoulders that do not make these mistakes. And both must go back to school in terms of understanding how successful teams are built.

There is no other answer. It is not the referee’s tough treatment of the players. It is not the opposition getting away with it. It is their errors and misjudgments that are costing the team. They are going to have to put in some serious homework if these lessons are going to be learnt, or else, fear the indignation of the fans and the wrath of Sonya.

Repeat offences of own goal experts ITV

5 02 2009

Yesterday’s fourth round replay match-up between the blue and red halves of Merseyside was marred by yet another mistake from the serial own goal experts ITV.


As the clock ran down to 118 minutes, the last two minutes of extra-time before penalties in a heated battle between Everton and Liverpool, scores locked at 0-0, the unthinkable happened: the ITV coverage cut to ad breaks.ITV expensive advertisement campaign has been let down by their coverage


When the game came back on, the scenes of euphoric delight from the Everton players and fans spelt disaster for the Reds. It slowly dawned on the TV audience that the Toffees had scored and knocked Liverpool out of the cup with seconds to go. Yet for the millions of fans up and down the country, those 15 seconds would have felt like a lifetime.


Severing the ties between a fan and the impending culmination of an edge-of-your-seat affair between two of the games’ biggest rivalries is a crime punishable by death. Remotes would have been hurled in despair, guiltless TV sets kicked and smacked in vain attempts to right the problem, screams of confusion and profanities erupting from everyone previously enthralled in the match. When the game came back on, only the mumblings of apologies from studio-anchor, Steve Rider, were offered as an apathetic excuse.


The broadcaster’s executive chairman Michael Grade attributed the blame to a “technical glitch” yet the mishap could yet prove to be fatal for their FA Cup coverage as they have already received over 1000 complaints. Whether by mechanical fault or human error last night’s debacle was one of countless misdemeanors in a series of blunders by the network.


The FAmous Cup 

In this season’s FA Cup coverage so far, ITV have already made glaring errors. In their choice of running extended highlights of Derby County’s anticipated defeat of Forest Green and the scoreless draw between Newcastle and Hull rather than the ‘giant killing’ of Manchester City by Nottingham Forest they completely missed out on the so called ‘romance of the cup’ and incurred scathing reports. The Daily Mail questioned the “pathetic” and “scandalous” coverage as whether “ITV were trying to cover the Cup on the cheap and/or being lazy.”


Further mishaps were observed in the second round coverage of Histon versus Leeds. The cameramen made a miss timed tackle in showing Histon players celebrating naked in the dressing room after the game – remember this isn’t Channel 5 and tea time nudity should be left to the pros – and they further capitulated by having microphones close to the crowd broadcasting swearing straight to the delicate ears of the audience.


Now all of these slip-ups in standards contrast strikingly with ITV’s seasoned coverage of the Champions League.


I grew up with the Tuesday and Wednesday night matches the highlight of the football season. My memory of 1999s Treble winning success of Manchester United over Bayern Munich are as much painted with images of Peter Schmeichel’s jubilant cartwheel at the winning goal as it is filled with the ringing words of Clive Tyldesley in the Semi when Cole scored to take United past Juventus: “Full steam ahead Barcelona!” and the spine tingling impact of his words when United took the 2-1 lead with the final kick of the final at the Nou Camp: “and Solskjaer has won it!”



They have provided a national service on par with BBC’s Match of the Day coverage of the Premiership or even better given that the games are obviously live and available to anyone with Terrestrial rather than having to stump up the fees for Sky or Setanta.


Furthermore they have done well in securing the rights for International England matches – despite having to share it with Setanta – whereas the BBC decided to overlook the national team’s ability to capture the country’s spirit and attention as soon as one result (Croatia 1-4 England) goes their way.


Then again, ITV missed a trick in the summer by not covering the Euro 2008 Final in Austria and Switzerland, estimated to have cost them £10million in lost revenue due to advertisements, because England failed to qualify. However, probably due to the reduced stress the national teams participation causes the public, the tournament went down a complete broadcasting success.


All of this evidence points to inconsistency and an erratic performance by ITV broadcasters that is forcing their audience to turn off.


Just like Harry Redknapp peering through his hands as his gaffe-prone goalkeeper Gomez scrambles out to attempt a punch clear from a corner, the FA Cup viewers are anticipating problems when they tune in for the simple pleasure of a cup game on a weekend afternoon. The viewers are losing faith in a network that incessantly misses a trick, like the shadow of his former self that is Michael Owen, who persists in just not quite producing the goods. And just like the offensive, ill-advised brain child that was ‘the 39th Game’ conjured up by the Chief Executive of the FA, Richard Scudamore, football enthusiasts and ITV devotees are starting to become disillusioned with the network and suspicious of their repeatedly incompetent treatment of the game.


The ITV are not taking the tournament seriously, and are above all, not representing the wishes of their audience.


The games people want to see, such as Forest’s dismantling of the world’s richest club Manchester City, are not given the time and consideration they deserve. The magic that the FA Cup should be abuzz with as we go into the fifth round of the game’s oldest cup competition is being overshadowed by these inadequate performances. And most distressing of all to those invested in last night’s Merseyside derby – whether football fans or ITV chairmen – is that the goals which are fundamental to the enjoyment of the game are now being usurped by advertisements and sponsor messages!


Even in Richard Dunne’s back catalogue of misfortunes and mishaps that is a major own goal.


The romance of the cup is still living on as Everton’s ecstatic celebrations testified to last night, but the same cannot be said for ITV. Michael Grade and the network will have to hope for one hell of a second half season revival, or else they will be left floundering at the foot of the broadcasting table, with nothing but Corrie and Emmerdale for company.