Category Archives: Sport

Competitive sport is the reason we are alive. Pick a side and stick with it and you’ll enjoy watching. Have a go and give it your best and you’ll enjoy playing.

Van Gaal or Van Salesman ?

I have to confess I am a Manchester United supporter – much to my Dad’s disappointment, who thought my Everton lampshade and duvet covers as a boy might swing it. But for some strange reason I felt drawn to United whilst watching them lose the FA Cup Final in 1976 to Southampton. It may sound odd to support a losing team but it was their attacking football that did it. Whilst the next decade was a struggle with the likes of Liverpool, Nottingham Forest, Everton and Villa dominating the League, they never lost that attacking instinct (apart from a short period under Dave Sexton).

Then came the glory years under Ferguson – again based on attacking flowing football – and I think many people started to believe success was almost a right. But history tells us that everything comes to an end and under David Moyes last season the speed of decline surprised many – including me. So on to a new manager and the club have opted for proven experience in the form of Louis Van Gaal.

Now LVG is no shrinking violet and he’s perhaps the man who gave Mourinho the idea that self adulation was a route to success. Unfortunately, for me, that’s where the comparisons with Mourinho stop. In in my opinion, Mourinho is the best manager in football today by a country mile – he doesn’t concern himself with individuals who are all ego and no work ethic (he flogs them to Utd & EFC) and he builds teams that play in the way that best suits the country he’s working in. I fear that Louis Van Gaal is more of van salesman – quite adept at selling you an absolutely “blinding motor” only for you to discover when you get it home that it’s an old banger.

True, Van Gaal has had some success – but he’s also had failures. But it’s not the results that worry me. The problem in my book is his fit with United. His football philosophy simply does not match United’s culture of playing attacking free-flowing football. I watched Holland play in the World Cup and they were using a 3-5-2 system that made them the most boring team I have ever seen: They beat Spain 5-1 but Spain were well on top in the 1st half and but for a wonder goal by RVP would have gone on to win, but instead they collapsed. They struggled to beat Australia 3-2 and beat a Chile side that had already qualified by scoring twice in the last 15 minutes. They then went into the knockout stages and a Robben dive, cheated Mexico out of a deserved win – before they drew 0-0 with the mighty Costa Rica (winning on penalties) – then another 0-0 with Argentina before going out.

By the end I was struggling to watch, it was so boring I felt my love for the game was being slowly sucked away. How could a team play such negative football on the world stage. That’s where king Louis comes in and his mighty 3-5-2. Unfortunately, from what I hear he is wedded to such a formation and will force United to adopt the approach. I wonder whether he’s ever seen the Premier League. Does he appreciate that other teams aren’t afraid to attack and will exploit a weak defence – and if necessary by-pass a cluttered midfield – it might not be pretty but British football has never been afraid of a lump it forward approach. More importantly has he never seen United and why they’ve been successful in recent times. The importance of full backs to a United system – playing with width – speed on the break – incisive passing. Does he appreciate the players at his disposal and what they can do.

The question is what will change first. If Van Gaal persists in a 3-5-2 then I wouldn’t be surprised to see United in the bottom half of the league – dare I say it they might even be in a relegation scrap. Believe me it will get that bad if he persists for too long. Will the United board allow him that luxury or will they insist on a change of style or even another change of manager. Who knows, but as I write this before the dawn of the new season I predict that signs of a struggle might already be there by the game with Burnley and with QPR, Leicester and West Ham to follow before the big boys hit town, United could be in real trouble by December

Moyes failed at United because he forgot about United’s culture and the desire to win outweighing the fear of losing. Van Salesman must heed the warning or he’ll go the same way.

My mum’s boomerang – it’s all coming back to me now

Here’s what I found in the attic in response to the Leftovers blog

On 2nd June 1961 my mum, in her early 20’s, boarded the SS Canberra with 2,237 other passengers and set sail on its maiden voyage for Australia.   Able to afford only a one way ticket and not much caring for the sea, I can only imagine the combination of excitement and apprehension.    Anxiety that can’t have been eased by her father’s anger when he heard about her plans and his refusal to see her off.

She spent the next 6 years in Australia, working largely for the Daily News, experiencing plenty of what the country had to offer.  A mixture of letters, recordings and one pre-planned phone call a year (her family back home in England didn’t have a telephone) was all she had to communicate with her parents and 5 brothers and sisters – oh for a facebook, twitter or blog!

She no doubt had some incredible experiences – many more than she’d every admit to her children. When she did eventually return, she was only able to bring with her a few treasures.   Two items that stuck in my mind were a large bow and arrow set and a boomerang – both given to her by an aboriginal tribe whilst covering a story with her boss for the paper.

I first saw them when I was about 8 yrs old – an age when my parents could trust me to visit the attic with confidence I wouldn’t come crashing through the floor via a mis-placed foot.   I remember the brutal strength required to pull the bow and the lethality of the tribally feathered arrows.    But what fascinated me most, however,  was the boomerang, which had been delicately carved and painted with aboriginal scribe.   How on earth could this funny little bent stick possibly come back to you once it had been thrown.   Impossible I thought.  But the seed was planted and I knew one day I’d have to give it a try.

During a hot summer holiday day a few years later,  I was off school and kicking my heels for something interesting to do and mum asked me to get something from the attic.   So up I went and purely by chance came upon the bent stick.  A light bulb went on – today this stick was going to fly and I would be the pilot!

With the boomerang stuffed under my shirt I strode purposefully outside and into the garden.  The image you might have at this stage is a large open meadow with a few apple trees clumped in one corner and a crumpled looking hedgerow framing the view as far as the eye could see.  Perhaps a more accurate image might be a square grassed area, size capable of parking 2 cars with a brick garage at one side (good for football I might add), a huge beech tree (always interesting to climb) to its left, a lamp-post (great for kick-stone games with the other kids) opposite and 2 cars parked on the drive providing cover on the final side.

At that age, little did I know that a boomerang requires more space than a yo-yo, but rest assured it was a lesson I was shortly to realise.   My right arm drew back like a pitcher and with all the ferocity I could muster I sent it off into the distance.   Well I’m sure it would have gone into the distance had the garage wall not provided an inconvenient obstacle.

The boomerang splintered into 2.  I involuntarily jumped from side to side as if standing on hot coals whilst muttering “oh s**t, oh s**t” – inappropriate language for a 10yr old I might add.  For a second or two I was so gripped by terror, I couldn’t function.  My legs wouldn’t move, I couldn’t speak, blood drained from every limb. If candid camera had been present I’d have been carted off to an institution.

Eventually I strode up to the shattered stick and like all boys of that age pondered how to get myself out of the mess.  First thought – who could I blame?  Sadly a very short-lived thought.   If Mum & Dad discovered the crime – that I had ruined a prize and irreplaceable possession, my life was surely over. I imagined that in all probability the bow and arrow might also get a first use in many a year, only with me as a target.   If I couldn’t admit it, then there was only one other course of action.  I’d have to try to fix it and hope for it never to be discovered.

So to another product young boys are rarely supposed to touch – unless accompanied by a mature adult – the superglue.  The strongest glue the world had ever seen – strong enough to hold a grown man upside down from an aeroplane according to the advert, so strong enough to fix a boomerang surely – and I might just get away with it provided I didn’t glue my fingers together at the same time.      A quick dab of glue on the boomerang, sandwiched between 2 books to keep it pressed firmly together and it was job done.  Up to the attic to return it (and the accompanying books) and all was calm.

I was in the attic a few weeks ago and found the boomerang – still actually pressed between the very same books.  Not by design, but because the books had also stuck to the boomerang – they certainly weren’t lying about the strength of the superglue. Maybe my son will follow in his father’s footsteps by one day attempting to throw the books & boomerang to see whether they all come back – now that would be interesting.

You might think I’d got away with it for all these years.  Sadly not.  A couple of years after the incident my Dad was clearing out the attic when he came across the scene of the crime.  A roaring bellowing noise crashed down through the attic hatch as I was summoned – don’t know how he knew it was me, I mean it could have been my sister – but obviously parents just know.   Mum came scurrying along to intervene. I’m sure with the intention of protecting her son from the angry attic beast. I prepared myself for my William Tell moment as Mum was presented with the evidence.    Clearly upset that a precious gift from another age was destroyed, she turned to me and saw my distress – my remorse for what I’d done and my fear for what was about to be done.

She just smiled, patted me on the head and said “I’m not sure it ever really worked anyway. So never mind – it’s been sat up in the attic for over 20 years so I’m sure we won’t miss it.  But you should have told me rather than trying to hide it and just tell me next time you need to use to super-glue as I don’t want a visit to A&E”.

I learnt a lot about being a parent that day and what’s really important.  I hope when my children put me to the test, the boomerang and all it entailed come back to me.   My mum passed away a couple of years ago and I never really told her how sorry I was for breaking the boomerang or how grateful I was for what she taught me.  Thanks Mum.

Football – troubled or triumphant ?

I love football. The skill, the unpredictability, the atmosphere and the drama all combined to cook up a viewing feast.

The first World Cup I ever watched was Argentina in 1978. I thought Peru were fantastic with their red striped tops and ability to leather it into the top corner at any moment. Then there was Scotland chasing an improbable margin of victory against Holland, being given hope by the glory of Archie Gemmell dancing through the Holland defence, only for Holland to snatch it back with an arrow like strike moments later. However the single most vivid memory was the white streamers and ticker tape pouring from the stands when Argentina played. It was just amazing and I’d never seen anything like it. I’m sure if it happened today it would be acclaimed by a brand of bog roll, but anyway I was hooked.

So roll forward to Brazil and I think we are witnessing the best World Cup ever – well certainly the best since 1978 which is as far back as I can muster. Surely the only conclusion is that football has scored a massive triumph – the games have been great, the stadia made it on time, the predicted riots haven’t materialised, even the USA fans have watched in massive numbers and all in all there’s been a party atmosphere. What could be better?

Well I have a feeling that the beautiful game is in danger of imploding. FIFA, that self-appointed body of unaccountables are constantly viewed with suspicion and their awards to Russia and Qatar have done little to improve that image. I only hope the “independent” investigation will lead to positive changes, although I’m not overly optimistic. But that’s not the cause of my main concern.

It is what’s happening on the pitch that is alarming. A few examples: First game – Neymar swings an elbow at Modric but stays on the field so that he can score the equalizer. Then Brazil are awarded the most ridiculous penalty you have ever seen. A short time later Croatia are denied a perfectly legitimate equalising goal. Next game is Mexico and they are denied not one, but two legitimate goals because they were deemed to be offside. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to dubious decisions from the officials. But these decisions are massive because they are changing the results of games. Just the couple mentioned above would have meant Mexico topped the group and who knows whether Brazil would have even qualified?

Add to that the fact that in most games we have to watch players diving or rolling on the floor with a level of play acting that would make an Oscar winner feel proud. The likes of Thomas Muller apparently needing emergency surgery having been shot by Pepe’s finger tips only to make a miraculous recovery the moment Pepe decided to shove his forehead a little too close. And don’t get me started on the holding and pushing on a corner or free kick into the box, with the France vs Ecuador game taking the art of penalty box wrestling to a whole new level. It reminded me of a player I grew up with, who went on to represent England a few years ago, telling me how, at his club, they were taught how to dive and how to pull shirts. Alarming but true.

So putting it in simple, easy to understand language the players are cheating and what’s really sad is they are getting away with it. The results of games no longer provide us with the answer to “Who is the best football team?”. Instead the question now is “Who can get most of the decisions in their favour?”

The most notorious player of the last 2 World Cups will be Luis Suarez. In South Africa in 2010 he handled the ball to prevent a certain goal. A goal that would have put an African team into their ever semi-final. Although he was subsequently sent off, Ghana missed the penalty and eventually went on to lose the match. An act that changed the result of the game. In 2014, as we all know, he decided to satisfy his hunger by taking a nibble on Chiellini before throwing himself to the ground as if fortunate to still retain a head on his shoulders after receiving such a ferocious elbow to the cheek. Italy were down to 10 men and Uruguay scented blood – quite literally in some cases – but the score was 0-0 and that was enough to see Italy progress. At that moment, Suarez should have been sent off, which would have evened up the numbers and probably subdued Uruguay without their talismanic striker, putting Italy on the front foot. But it didn’t happen and shortly afterwards Uruguay scored and Italy went out. Again a decision that probably changed the result of the game.

I’d also like to add that whilst I’m disappointed by his behaviour – clearly he needs some help – I am disgusted by the “support” expressed by some leading figures who are portraying Suarez is the victim. Disrespectful to the game that made them and morally void for every young kid looking for their role models to show them the way.

To be honest I’m fed up of it. I want to see the best football team win in the right way – that doesn’t mean that we don’t get shocks and lesser teams can’t cause an upset – it’s simply a desire to see results based on playing within the rules. Not too much to ask for is it? After all we have a game, we have the rules and it’s just a question of seeing them implemented properly. What makes it worse is the fact that the solution is there – right in front of us every time we turn on the TV.

I don’t blame referees. They can’t possibly see everything on the pitch and get it right first time all the time. I agree they could be better, but expecting a perfect game is like asking for an iced lolly not to melt in the desert. The answer is using a video referee. We all know what’s gone on because we can see it on a TV replay. So why can’t the officials use that to help them?

Ah, in come the old-fashioned “it will slow the game down” brigade. What a load of old tripe. How long do you think it was between the moment Suarez bit Chiellini before the game resumed? How long before did the game stop before the Neymar fired in the penalty? Enough time for a video review? Of course – I’d seen the replay so many times, I was bored stiff by the time play resumed. In many cases it would actually speed up the game. I’m not suggesting it is used for everything, but exactly as they do in rugby, the referee calls for assistance as and when needed and the big calls are always right.

Even more important, if players realised they can’t get away with it, they won’t try it on in the first place. Before we know it, referees will be respected rather than abused and diving, pulling, pushing and biting will be a thing of the past because there is no longer any advantage to be gained.

For football to be triumphant, the authorities must follow the lead of several other major sports – if they don’t I fear football will become increasingly troubled.

Competition for children – good or bad ?

An article on BBC website this morning http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-27928066 prompted this post. A slightly daft bit report by Ofsted in my view – pupils at private schools to excel at some sports where financial support is needed to make progress – genius. However, there were a couple of interesting points within it. “The majority of state school heads said competitive sport was optional. Only 13% said they expected all students to take part. The report finds that in the most successful schools, both state and private, heads recognise that competitive sport can help build an ethos and boost grades.”

There have been many debates on whether being competitive is good or bad for children. As you can see from some of the comments on the BBC article. The “it’s good” vote say that life is a competitive, children need to be prepared for the real world and it’s wrong to wrap children in cotton wool. The “it’s bad” vote say that not all children want to take part in competitive sport and it can result in a feeling of exclusion if they aren’t good enough.

Is either view right? I suspect as with most things, the answer is somewhere in the middle.

There is no doubt life is competitive. Exams and qualifications, getting into higher education, getting a job, finding a partner, buying a house, getting a good deal, making a complaint, getting fit, sticking to a diet, inventing time travel …… Whether you are competing with yourself or competing with others, life is competitive.

Spurred on by that intro, I hear the “it’s good” voters cry out for more competition. We need to know who’s won, who’s lost, whether we’re moving up or down the league tables. Is that the way forward ?

A quick dart into the history of 100m sprint tells you plenty about competitive sports. Not one of the runners in the 1980 Olympic 100m final would have made the London final in 2012 and most wouldn’t have even made the semi’s. There is no doubt that competition leads to improvement and evolution is fundamentally about pushing the boundaries further. If everyone around you is achieving better results, then your results will be dragged up. It might not be that you ultimately, win, but consciously or sub-consciously you will try harder to be in the game.

So what’s the issue – competitive sports for all. However let’s go back to the “it’s bad” vote and consider the person who isn’t gifted in an event. Let’s use the Olympics again and look at a swimming Sydney 2000 when Eric Moussambani swam 1m 52s for 100m freestyle compared to the World Record of 48 seconds at the time. As he came down the final 20m the commentators were suggesting he might not make it and would need to grab the lane rope. Fortunately, he survived and received a massive ovation when he finally arrived. Now Eric achieved fame and notoriety for his efforts – after all it was the Olympics and isn’t it as much about taking part.

But how would that have gone down at the local High School? If the teacher didn’t make Eric feel bad enough by shouting all sorts of “encouragement” his way, then you’d be fairly sure the other classmates would plug the gap. And I bet Eric’s confidence might suffer post race and he’s unlikely to be the coolest kid in school anymore. So if you’re no good, why bother if the result might be no better than ridicule ?

It’s a fair point but it’s interesting how the Olympic story is one of triumph against adversity and standing ovations. Yet the High School equivalent is utter misery. But clearly it’s not the competitive sport that’s the issue – it’s the same 100m swimming in both – it is the surroundings and how winning and losing is positioned.

What we shouldn’t do is remove the competition. Eric might be weak at swimming, but great at art or maths or writing. Samantha, who is poor at writing is a great sprinter. Why should she be denied her opportunity to shine. Surely by the same token as the “it’s bad” voters use for competitive sport, writing should be removed from the curriculum.

I am a big supporter of competitive sports and indeed competition in general and it should absolutely be part of education – and I don’t think it should just relate to sports. I recently played a new board game called PLYT with my children. It’s about numeracy but it’s very different from other games I’ve played – firstly because I could actually play properly without pretending to have the mental age of a 7 yr old and secondly because it is competitive. If I’d have told them “here’s an educational game about numeracy” there is no way they’d have played, but it was great and the children loved it – they just wanted to compete, to try to win and to see me and their mum having as much difficulty as they were. As with the 100m sprinting, the more they played, the better they were and they kept pushing the boundaries. Brilliant !

What we have to deal with, however is making sure that people know how to win and lose with right attitude. That in itself is education. We want children at the High School to look at Eric and cheer, applaud and make him feel great about making it to the line regardless of his position. Then maybe Eric might be encouraged rather than discouraged and perhaps next time he’ll clock a couple of seconds quicker – that’s progress and he’s now competing with himself as well as the others.

Winning is great and it does inspire people to push themselves harder so they can be successful. However, it’s not only about winning. It’s about wanting to have a go, wanting to join in with the others and most importantly feeling happy when you’ve done it. But it is the society around you that will determine that most important element – how you feel afterwards.

So let’s promote competition but at the same time let’s educate society on how to treat winners and losers rather than pretend they don’t exist.

England at the World Cup in Brazil

The time is just coming up to 5pm.  Only another 3 hours to the big game vs Uruguay and the tension builds.  Will I be sitting here tomorrow wondering where it all went wrong, hurling if only’s at the management team from the safety of a few thousand miles away ?  Or will I be dreaming that this might be our year and well done to Roy and the lads for following my views on team selection.

It’s easy to be wise after the event, so I’ll start by laying out my team here and a cheeky prediction:

Goalkeeper:  Mr Hart – picks himself and hopefully has plenty of time to scribble a few pictures like he used to 20yrs ago, when you had no idea what it was until the final lines were added

Right Back: Glen – equally good going forward as he is bad at defending because he gets too close, but with few alternatives I’d stick by him

Left back: Leighton – a wand of a left foot and can get up and down the field all day

Centre Backs: Phil and Gary – sounds a bit like the Neville brothers, but rest assured these 2 are much taller and still playing which is always a good thing

Midfield:  Middle – Captain Steve – sitting in front of the back 4 concentrating on covering defence and smiling a bit more often – needs to pick up his performance from the last game and conditions should suit

Middle – Jack – spends most of his time being tackled to the ground so another injury is clearly a risk but likes to go forward which gives the team the good tempo we need to upset Uruguay

Left – Danny W – was our best player against Italy, quick and used the ball well – so more of the same and just a few more inches growth on the hair needed to reach the really high crosses

Right – Raheem – still think the Ox is better when he’s fit, but we need pace and he brings even more than Hale did

Number 10: Lallana – surprise package,  has played well every time he’s pulled on an England shirt and actually seems to enjoy it which is very un-England like

Up front:  Big Wayne – looks fitter than he’s done for years and must be dying for the opportunity to show what he can do

Subs:  Daniel – I know some people think he should start, but England just don’t score enough goals when he plays because he doesn’t link up the play well enough (never scored more than 1 from open play when he plays) but might prove a great sub if we need a goal.  Sorry Daniel, but I’m the manager and that’s just the way it is.

Ross – been brilliant so far and can change the game for us even if some people on text in’s think he’s sponsored by a large bank

Ricky – has never let us down and would be a great alternative if we need something different and gives everyone over 40 the belief they’ve still got a chance to make it

 

My prediction is a 2-0 win for England.