Archive for the ‘Sport’ Category

The day all of Ireland has been waiting for has arrived. In about ten minutes Irish rugby’s Golden Generation kick off their attempt to cement a place in history and become the second Irish team to complete a Grand Slam in the Five/Six Nations Championship, the first since 1948, by beating Wales. If they do beat Wales, or even lose by less than 13 points, they will win the Championship since 1985, the earliest one I have a decent memory of. I remember fondly Trevor Ringland’s late winning try against Scotland; I didn’t see the 15-15 draw against France but read that it was a brutally physical contest; I watched Ringland chasing Michael Bradley’s precision crossfield kick to the corner to get the ball down a millisecond before a Welsh defender and Keith Crossan scampering over the try-line to seal our first win at Cardiff Arms Park in over 20 years; and of course the finale against the Old Enemy, England, at Lansdowne Road: I missed the first-half as I was en-route to visit cousins and didn’t see Brendan Mullin’s chargedown, leading to his own try. Just after I started watching Keith Underwood went over in the corner to give England the lead and put them in pole position. A Michael Kiernan penalty brought us level before the pivotal moment. Ireland had a line-out in the English half and captain Ciaran Fitzgerald turned to his tired players and screamed “COME ON, WHERE’S YOUR F**KING PRIDE?”. The giant Donal Lenihan claimed the lineout and charged into the English “22”. From the resultant ruck, Michael Bradley whipped a pass to Kiernan, who set himself before kicking a beautiful drop goal, clinching the championship and sending Lansdowne Road wild with joy.

So here we are 24 years later. As I said earlier, this is Ireland’s Golden Generation, the best rugby team we have ever had. However, in spite of a number of near-misses (and three very creditable Triple Crowns), they have they have not won a championship. A number of this team are in the twilight of their careers so this may be their last chance at glory. In this endeavour, the mental attitude of the team is paramount, as I believe beating Wales is well within their playing abilities, however sometimes they tend to let nerves get to them and this could be their downfall. When I think of what’s required today from the Irish team in terms of that attitude I think back to the 2002 football World Cup game against Cameroon and what Mick McCarthy wrote on a board after a jittery first-half performance: “NO REGRETS”. The team must not be afraid to perform to their best by the enormity of the occasion and must leave everything on the pitch because this is their time.

COME ON IRELAND!!!!

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I feel sorry for football/soccer fans in the United States – competing with American Football, Basketball, Baseball and Ice Hockey, their sport is treated as an afterthought in the American media, their league is treated as a joke by other major footballing nations, some are forced to groundshare in cavernous stadia where any efforts to create atmosphere is lost to a great extent and where you’re not sure where, exactly, the pitch perimeter is because there are American Football markings on the field of play.

And yet they turn out in their tens of thousands every week to support the sport they love. Over the past decade or so they have developed a stable league with a future seemingly assured, in the absence of major stars – even rising American stars are quickly snapped up by the major European clubs. A league-wide salary cap ensured financial stability. And then two years ago, one of their constituent clubs, the appropriately titled LA Galaxy, reached for the stars. Under new “designated player” rules, they announced a blockbuster deal to bring one of the world’s stars, David Beckham, to play in the MLS.

It seemed like a mutually beneficial deal. Out of favour with Fabio Capello at Real Madrid and with his international career seemingly over, it gave Beckham a lucrative opportunity to extend his career. In return, as one of the world game’s most marketable stars, he would draw attention to the Galaxy and, by extension, the league. He made a lot of positive (although somewhat squeaky noises) about what a great challenge this was for him and how he was looking forward to promoting the league.

However, right from the start, his commitment seemed to be less than 100%. Still contracted to Real Madrid, he wouldn’t arrive for the Galaxy until months into the new US season, and then after a long, hard Spanish season where he had picked up various knocks and would not appear on the field immediately. After recovering from these he finally started playing and, while he did contribute to some victories for the Galaxy and attracted big crowds to games in Boston and New York, he had arrived too late to salvage his team’s season. And then England came calling. After playing pretty much non-stop for over a year he suddenly flew from LA to London to play in a pretty meaningless international friendly and picked up another injury. So his first season was pretty much a washout.

Last year he had a more uneventful season at the Galaxy (again failing to make the playoffs) but his eye seemed to be always on extending his international career. So when Fabio Capello intimated that he would have to be playing regularly over the MLS close season to keep fit for the Spring internationals, a loan deal was set up to take Beckham to AC Milan. But of course he would be returning for the start of the new MLS season in March, he said. Then after a few games his tone changed…he was really enjoying his time in Milan and how great it would be if he could stay. And then the club got involved…and then the agents…and the whole saga took on an air of inevitability.

The Galaxy tried to put up a fight: first they insisted that Beckham would be returning in time for the MLS kick-off; then they slapped a $10 million price on his head. But of course it was a losing battle for them. At the time of writing the new deal sounds something like this: Beckham will play in Italy until the end of the season, will return to the Galaxy in July, before rejoining Milan next winter. So what’s the betting that he will either a) stay in Milan throughout the summer or b) will return to the US briefly only to return to Europe in time for the new Italian season.

Basically Beckham has treated the MLS and its fans with utter contempt, seeing them only as a cash cow vehicle for his own career rehabilitation and running off as soon as a more glamorous suitor arrived on the scene. This will be a big blow for the league as those who came through the turnstiles, curious to see a big footballing star, will drift away from the sport, leaving only a hardcore of passionate fans. It may survive, it may not. But if Beckham does come back in the summer, I suggest that wherever he goes to play, he is roundly booed as a form of protest at this blatant display of disloyalty and disrespect towards fans of the game that gave him so much.

I’ve had it with English football “fans” now. Police in London have either arrested or are looking for 16 Tottenham Hotspur supporters, who have been caught on CCTV chanting abuse at visiting Portsmouth player Sol Campbell. What’s their justification for their hatred? For those of you who aren’t big football fans, six years ago Sol Campbell dared to move from Tottenham Hotspur (or Spurs, for short) to their local rivals Arsenal causing outrage amongst Spurs fans. Since then whenever he as returned to play against Spurs, their fans have subjected him to bitter abuse, generally referring to him as Judas (a standard insult amongst football fans, however, given that Spurs have a strong Jewish support base, also a little ironic in this case).

On this occasion, they went further, directing racist and homophobic chants towards Campbell and that is why the police are involved. You might think to yourself that the perpetrators might be young punk-ass kids out to try and show how big they are but no, these are grown men in their 20s-40s who, given the price of Premier League tickets nowadays, all probably have good jobs. It is thought that one of them is a policeman!

But this isn’t an isolated incident. Whenever you turn on a football game nowadays, you see shots of supporters, their faces twisted in hate and anger, hurling abuse at players, referees, opposing teams’ fans, their own manager. Even when they celebrate a goal, some of them look like they’re taking a really bad crap. And it’s not just English supporters who behave like this. Some Italian clubs have had to play games behind closed doors due in recent years because of hooliganism and even murder. Spanish and East European fans regularly direct monkey chants at visiting black players.

Seriously, what the hell is wrong with these people? Attending a football match is supposed to be a form of entertainment that you enjoy, yet they pay out a fortune to be constantly angry. I love my football and understand that it’s a vicarious thrill, which can be often be frustrating. But at the end of the day (to use a cliche), it is just a game and even when you lose, there’s another game just days away. It hasn’t always been like this. I have a Match Of The Day DVD which shows footage from the 1960s of home fans applauding a goal by THE OPPOSING TEAM!! In the late 1980s there was a trend of fans bringing inflatable bananas (and other inflatable toys related to their teams-e.g canaries for Norwich City, haddock for Grimsby Town) and waving them en masse when goals were scored, creating surreal scenes. Even nowadays, I have seen clips from the often-derided MLS in North America of Toronto FC fans creating scenes of great fun. They chant and drink beer like their European counterparts. When opposing teams try to take corners, hundreds of harmless streamers are thrown on the ball,  preventing them. On one occasion, when Toronto scored their first goals, the fans threw hundreds of seat cushions that had been provided by the club onto the pitch.

So come on English football fans, get over yourselves. Stop being angry and start enjoying your football. As I said earlier, it is only a game.

Who won? Who lost? Was a knockout blow landed? How should the debates be analysed? Is there an objective measure to determine who succeeded? Sporting metaphors abound (well actually boxing metaphors, mainly). But me, I’m going to use another sport for my analysis metaphor, one which unites me with suburban American Heartland homemakers: soccer.

Firstly, the clubs: It’s Obama-Biden FC v McCain-Palin United

Secondly: Tournament format: Four games with the first, third and fourth being contested by the clubs’ first teams, the second set aside for each club’s reserves. Winner determined by aggregate scores over the four matches.

Game 1: Team Obama v Team McCain. Played on what was supposed to be Team McCain’s hope patch, a late change in weather conditions combined with knocks picked up by Team McCain through over-exertion in an external mini-tournament plays into Team Obama’s hands somewhat and the tie becomes the proverbial “game of two halves”. In the first half Team Obama go on the attack forcing Team McCain onto the backfoot. Pressure pays off as Team Obama score a tidy goal by taking advantage of weaknesses shown by Team McCain that are similar to those displayed often by the unpopular, dirty and ultimately inept Team Bush. In the second half conditions improve for Team McCain and they score an early equaliser. However Team Obama show themselves more adept at the conditions than anticipated and soon retake the lead. Team McCain continue to attack, only to find that Team Obama are happy to soak up the pressure and create chances on the counter-attack and the game finishes with no additions to the scoreline. Final Score: Team Obama 2, Team McCain 1.

Game 2: Team Biden v Team Palin. In spite of being a reserve team game, this matchup is eagerly anticipated as the experienced but unpredictable Team Biden take on the inexperienced and unfancied Team Palin. There are concerns about whether Team Palin has any ability whatsoever and whether Team Biden will be too aggressive, losing support among neutral spectators or underestimating Team Palin and lose the match. The game starts at a high tempo, with Team Palin playing at a frantic pace and managing to string some passes together, leading to a scrambled goal for them. However, Team Biden soon take control of the game, smartly absorbing pressure from Team Palin and putting together a number of fluid passing movements, creating numerous chances and scoring two goals before half-time. In the second half the pattern continues and Team Biden score two more as Team Palin seem to run out of ideas and are reduced to chasing the game frantically and putting in a couple of wild tackles. Team Palin score before the end but it’s only a consolation. The most entertaining tie of the tournament ends: Team Biden 4, Team Palin 2.

Game 3: Team Obama v Team McCain: Played at a smaller, older, small-town venue, ostensibly to test the teams ability to play at grassroots level. This turns out to be a bad decision as the pitch turns out to be small and waterlogged and not conducive to expansive soccer and leads to a dull encounter. Team McCain doesn’t seem to want to attack to strongly, possibly due to fear of Team Obama’s counterattacking ability. Team Obama, meanwhile, seem happy to absorb whatever attacks are made by Team McCain comfortably, and this makes them appear like the superior team. However the only vaguely exciting moment of the evening occurs when Team McCain pick up a yellow card for a petulant kick out at “That One”. Final Score: 0-0

Game 4: Team Obama v Team McCain: Team McCain come out fighting aggressively, knowing that they need a big performance to have a chance of catching Team Obama. However, due to inferior ability, they resort to tough and sometimes dirty challenges on Team Obama. Team Obama manage to ride most challenges but Team McCain receive a yellow card for persistent fouling. Team McCain’s tactics lead to a scrappy goal, however Team Obama’s calm passing ability lead to two goals. Final score: Team Obama 2, Team McCain 1.

So final aggregate score in the tournament: Obama-Biden FC 8 McCain-Palin Utd 4. So I hope that clears it all up.

Do you agree with this analysis? If the debates are viewed as a soccer tournament, what was the aggregate result? Vote below.

For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, here’s that video of Sarah Palin dropping the puck at the Flyers-Rangers game

I was about to go to bed with nothing complete to add for today when I read this on the New York Post’s website: “The Alaska governor and self-described “hockey mom” heard a few boos when she walked onto the ice, but that soon turned to polite applause as she headed to center ice” and “Palin waved to the crowd and smiled as she dropped the puck to applause and cheers.” and remembered that she was supposed to drop the puck at the Flyers-Rangers game tonight so I went to YouTube to see how accurate a description this was; a few boos turning into polite applause my ass. That was a sustained and thunderous cacophony of boos. Added to that the TV cameras didn’t show one crowd shot during the whole event. Over here that happens at sports events when some moron invades the pitch and the producers show anything but said invader. Were the visual responses offered by Flyers fans too offensive for primetime TV? And even with the focus constantly on Palin, you can still see some people in the background giving the thumbs down. Hell, even the sheepishly bemused faces of the Rangers players say it all. What the hell are they smoking at The New York Post?

So congratulations to Philadelphia Flyers fans on joining women as a second demographic not to be fooled by Palin into thinking she was one of you. Now all we need is Alaskans, patriots and genuinely decent small-town folk to reject her and she’ll have nobody left.