Tuesday, 30 November 2010

10 things a footballer should never do

1) Wear gloves

If anything is going to give a 6’4 brick shit-house centre-half the encouragement they probably don’t require much of to come clattering into you before the first whistle’s gone, it’s wearing gloves. Unless you’ve got a number 1 on your back, gloves should always be a big no-no for all footballers. If you’re cold…run more! It not only looks daft but tells 40,000 bloodthirsty, drunken football fans that you enjoy sexual attention from Will Young and co.

2) Even worse – wear short sleeves and gloves

The ultimate clothing oxymoron. Yes, it may not be the 30+ degree matches La Liga often enjoy, so if you really must wrap up warm for physical exertion, choose the long-sleeved option. Maybe even with ‘Skins’ underneath if you have the misfortune of being away at Newcastle in January. I wouldn’t inflict that on anyone, except maybe Tottenham. But to act the hard-man with short-sleeves, then wimp out by pulling on a pair of gloves is utterly ridiculous.

3) Wear multi-coloured monstrosities on their feet

Defenders in white boots not befitting of their position, wingers who look like they’ve dropped a bowl of custard on their boots and strikers whose feet resemble over-sized tic-tacs. Why? You’re either not good enough to warrant drawing that sort of attention to yourself and if in the unlikely event you do have the odd Cruyff-turn in the locker…let your football do the talking. I’m from the real old-school camp. Boots should be black. End of. They look better, they look smarter and most of all, you don’t look like a twat in them. Unless of course, your name is Titus Bramble.

4) Over-elaborate celebrations

It’s always been amusing for opposing fans when players celebrate like monkeys at feeding time and get injured as a result. But the extent of the hilarity this can cause never really hit me fully until I Googled ‘Footballers injured celebrating’. Here are a few of my favourites.

Steve Morrow broke his collar bone after falling off the lofty shoulders of Tony Adams celebrating Arsenal’s 1993 League Cup victory over Sheffield Wednesday.

Perry Groves knocked himself out whilst on the bench during a game – hitting his head on the dugout after jumping up in celebration.

Thierry Henry (there seems to be a distinct Arsenal theme building up here…) required treatment to his face following an over-enthusiastic celebration with a corner flag (at least it was his face…).

Shaun Goater injured his foot when he kicked an advertising board celebrating a goal by Nicolas Anelka (at Manchester City on this occasion, not Arsenal!).

5) Kiss the badge

Cheap, tacky, fake and the one sure-fire way to tell your fans that tomorrow you’ll be buggering off to their local rivals for £1,000 more a week. And even worse (*cough* Gus Poyet *cough*) is kissing said rivals badge when playing against your old club. I love to see Mr Poyet try a move like that in Turkey!

6) Premature celebration

In last season’s FA Cup 4th qualifying round, Tooting and Mitcham United were 3-1 up at home to Blue Square Bet Premier side Eastbourne Borough with just 10 minutes remaining. Tooting’s star striker, Paul Vines, was substituted and received a standing ovation from the err…terraces (ok, and the rather sizeable main stand), to which he responded by repeatedly punching the air. Match ticket - £10. Half-time burger - £3 (and a dodgy stomach). Seeing Vines’ face as Eastbourne pulled a goal back and then netted an injury-time equaliser – Absolutely priceless!

7) Sign for Portsmouth

Now this isn’t an attack on dear old Pompey. There are many things I love about Portsmouth. Well no, ok, just Fratton Park. And that’s largely because I have the same taste in football grounds as Cheryl Cole has in men! As a player, if Pompey come calling, you know you’re probably guaranteed a game so long as you turn up by 2:55 on a Saturday afternoon. That’s the good news. The bad news is your career is probably going to come to a screeching halt and slowly spiral down into oblivion. So now the entire footballing world knows you have absolutely no ambition…but at least you’re not a money-grabbing wanker. Every cloud…

8) Date tarts with plastic boobs

I’m not bitter…honest!

9) Get their names/their children’s names on their boots

Now I’ll hold my hands up, in my lifetime I’ve owned two cars. I’ve given both names. But they’ve both been tongue-in-cheek and I would never dream of getting ‘Ben’ (Benito Carbone…yes I’m that sad) embossed on my Corsa. Doing the same thing with boots is a monstrosity. Admittedly, footballers have a reputation of not being the sharpest tools in the box and often they live upto this stereotype. But I’m sure even Joey Barton can remember his own name…he’s had to say it often enough in court! And at a push, he can probably recite the names of his kids too – if he has any. So what need is there for players to get the names of either themselves or their offspring stitched onto their footwear?

10) Verbally kill off your still very-much-alive grandparents to get out of international duty

Oh dear Stephen Ireland, oh dear. Now sit down and focus dear reader, this is a complex and increasingly tangled web of lies spun by the then Manchester City man in order to excuse himself from international duty. Here goes. Ireland originally told his country that his maternal grandmother had passed away. Upon reading of her own death in the papers, she came out and told the world that she was still very much alive and kicking. The footballer, clearly confused by his grief, then changed his story to say that it was in fact his paternal grandmother who had died. Guess what? She too was still with us and she too wasn’t backwards in coming forwards with that information. Ireland, obviously not knowing when to give it up, then said his grandparents were divorced and it was his grandfather’s elderly partner who was next to be verbally killed off. Another lie exposed. Learn when to put the spade down, Stephen.

N.B. It should also be noted that the real reason Ireland wanted to be excused was because his girlfriend had suffered a miscarriage. Why it didn’t cross his mind to say that from the start, well, your guess is as good as mine.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Can England retain their Ashes title or will Andrew Srauss’ side burn-out in the heat of Australia?

With just 24 hours to go until England begin their Ashes title defence down-under, Hannah Duncan casts a critical eye over the visitor’s chances.

Having touched-down in the ‘convict colony’ nearly a month ago, Andrew Strauss’ side have got their Australia tour off to a flyer – with two dominant victories either side of a draw against South Australia.

But it’s all well and good playing neat cover drives and manufacturing more spin than the government’s PR department against second-rate opposition, but it remains a tall order to replicate the form England have enjoyed for best part of 2010 against Ricky Ponting’s Australia side determined to claim back the little urn on home turf.

For the average cricket fan (or at least the average overly-optimistic England fan), the visitors probably go into the first Test tomorrow as narrow favourites for the series, although Bet365 currently have England down as 7/4 underdogs, with an Australian victory at 21/20 and a draw at 9/2.

And in a sense it’s easy to see why. England have not won a series in Australia for 24 years. The conditions don’t really suit our bowlers very well as it will be tough to gain much in the way of swing, making the lives of James Anderson and co. very difficult. And potentially most tellingly, Kevin Pietersen has yet to find the form he and the selectors promised he would.

Before the squad departed England, I spoke to former England captain Alec Stewart about the form of Pietersen and he insisted that he’s “England’s best player in all forms of the game.”

But whilst it’s nice to see support for the team collectively and as individuals, the positive words won’t offer much comfort if the South African-born batsman continues to be dismissed cheaply.

Nevertheless, Stewart maintains, “Pietersen wants to do well. I expect him to score very heavily in the Ashes series. I’m a huge fan of his.”

And the former Surrey man – where Pietersen now plies his County trade – believes, “He’s gone through a run of bad form but very good players come out of those little dips in form. Pietersen will come out of that dip and I’m sure he’ll hit the road running as soon as the Ashes begin.”

One player who seems to have regained form since landing down-under is captain Andrew Strauss, who has struggled to really make the sort of impact with the bat from which he gained so many plaudits prior to taking on the captaincy. But with two formidable centuries under his belt in the warm-up matches (in one of which he remained unbeaten), Strauss’ form could be returning to its peak at just the right time.

And with Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood all chipping in with solid innings and the odd flamboyant century (helmets off to Bell for his superb 192 against Australia A), the batting order look to be settling into the Aussie wickets nicely.

With the ball, no individual has really shone consistently, but each of the bowling attack has contributed fairly evenly, hopefully boosting the confidence of the group without being too reliant upon one or two stand-out bowlers, unlike in previous series’.

All in all, it’s been a successful start to the Australia tour for England. Andrew Strauss and his team have so far hit the wicket running but a far from easy ride lies ahead over the next few weeks. And whilst the big grey cloud continues to linger over Kevin Pietersen and his bat, England cannot rest on their laurels. A tough winter is certainly set to be in store for the Ashes holders, but it still looks to be our best chance for many a year down-under.

Whether that says more about England or Australia remains to be seen.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

When the Lamp burns out, Josh can shine for club and country

The prospect of Frank Lampard hanging up his boots is one that sends shivers down the spines of Chelsea fans (and causes most England fans and Stevie G to crack open the champers!).

But the emergence of seventeen year-old central midfielder Josh McEachran could make the transition away from the Blues’ halo-adorning number 8 that little bit more comfortable when that fatal day dawns.

Since his arrival at Stamford Bridge in 2009, Carlo Ancelotti has reaffirmed his commitment to promoting youth players to the Blues’ first team. Partly due to his belief in this system and partly due to the tight knot Roman Abramovich has tied in his purse strings, youngsters such as Jeffrey Bruma, Patrick van Aanholt and Daniel Sturridge have found themselves regularly warming the Stamford Bridge bench over the last year.

And until the beginning of this campaign, the west London faithful thought these would be the names of the future, but little did they know a youngster who was part of the FA Youth Cup winning side last season would make the jump so readily.

Introducing Josh McEachran. Born to Scottish parents (mits off Craig Levein!), McEachran was snapped up from a youth team in his hometown of Oxford at the tender age of 8.

The left-footed youngster, who can play on either the left side or central midfield, has come on leaps and bounds in the past year – an improvement that’s not gone unnoticed by England’s coaching staff.

Having starred as his nation won the European U17 Championships earlier this year, McEachran has seemingly bypassed the Under 19s - being called up for tonight’s U21 tie with Germany.

To put the icing on the Chelsea bun in what has undoubtedly been an incredibly successful year for the Blues’ youngster, McEachran also made his first-team debut in September for his side’s away European Cup tie with MSK Zilina. His 79th minute substitute appearance made him the first player to take part in the competition having been born after the tournament was rebranded the UEFA Champions League in 1992.

He has since been utilised by Carlo Ancelotti in all of Chelsea’s Champions League ties this season. But it hasn’t been just bit-part cameos in matches the Blues have already sewn-up. Ancelotti has entrusted McEachran with helping his side chase the game against Manchester City and Sunderland, as well as trying to gain maximum points at Villa Park.

And whilst the newly-promoted England U21 man has impressed on each showing, it was his performance against Newcastle in the Carling Cup which really got Chelsea fans’ heads turning. Despite the 4-3 home defeat, the performance of McEachran was a real shining light for both Ancelotti and the Stamford Bridge crowd.

Despite his years - and easily being able to masquerade as an Under 12 squad player - Chelsea fans were stunned by the starlet’s composure, level-headedness, decision-making, confidence and ability.

But not only does he have a great first-touch and an ability to play a pass through the eye of a needle, the youngster has a footballing brain to boot – gaining him plaudits from the very top of the game.

Both Sir Trevor Brooking and Jamie Redknapp have been singing his praises in the press, whilst Blues boss Ancelotti said after the Newcastle game, “He is very young but he showed fantastic ability and quality. If we need him he is ready to play the Premier League and the Champions League.”

Having been likened to Chelsea stalwart Lampard, the young midfielder admits his aim is to emulate the former West Ham man. “Chelsea say to me 'look at Frank Lampard'. I need to get into the box more," he told the club's website.

Whilst McEachran’s captain and the last player to break through the Chelsea ranks, John Terry, believes the youngster has “amazing ability and can open defences with a pass.”

It’s high praise for such a young man, but if McEachran can continue his development and keep forcing Carlo Ancelotti's hand into selecting him, the midfielder could have a massive future not only for Chelsea but for his country too. And who knows, when the Blues' current number 8 eventually hangs up his boots, we could well be asking, "Frank who?"

Monday, 1 November 2010

Communication or Confrontation?

Following the weekend's big controversy at Old Trafford, the argument for referees justifying their more contentious decisions has resurfaced and for those of you that care (hopefully you have a vague interest if you've found this blog), here's my take on it.

Since the emergence of television replays from angles even Pythagoras hadn't dreamt up, referees and linesmen (sorry, i'm old fashioned) have come in for an even more vociferous torrent of abuse than ever before. And i'll admit now i'm probably more guilty than most for not mincing my words towards the men in the middle.

But as i've always believed and as Mark Lawrenson discussed with Gabby Logan on Match of the Day 2 last night, referees should be obliged to come out in the media, preferably infront of a post-match camera, to explain decisions - particularly the more contentious ones.

It would not be demeaning of their authority. If anything, as Gabby Logan observed, "It empowers them if they do that."

Communication goes a long way in all walks of life and may not altogether solve problems, but certainly makes people more accepting. And it would undoubtedly go a long way to improving a deteriorating situation in football. If the officials make a mistake, admitting they've done so is acceptable. If they still believe they are in the right, explaining the methods behind their madness is also acceptable. Hiding away behind former referees endears them to no-one and only serves to fuel speculation, arguments and anger amongst the media, players and supporters.

By refusing to hold their hands up to mistakes or explain how and why they've come to certain decisions will only serve to widen the ever-increasing gap between the officials and the rest of the footballing world. At present, the cracks have appeared and are creating a crevice in relations but with a continued lack of communication and officious nature, the crevice will become an irreparable chasm. The FA's respect campaign will never work until referees hold up their end of the bargain - only then can they really have grounds for complaint.

Some referee sympathisers will say that officials have no reason to do so and that players make many more mistakes in the course of 90 minutes than their officious counterparts. This may well be true, but to believe players don't get reprimanded for poor performances or costly errors is to believe Titus Bramble is one of the world's best defenders!

Players are often villified for their mistakes and are subjected to cameras and microphones being shoved under their noses only minutes after the end of a match. I'm not saying this is right, Didier Drogba's actions after the 2009 Champions League semi-final defeat to Barcelona show how high feelings can run so close to the final whistle, but if players are put in this position it only seems right that referees are afforded the same or at least similar treatment.

This isn't an attack on referees or the job they do, but I feel being more open with the paying public and offering a greater level of communication will assist their efforts to reduce abuse both on the pitch and on the terraces.

The cameras show up poor decisions, replays confirming incorrect calls infuriate fans. Officials can use the same offending technology to get people back on side and it's about time they were brave enough to either back their decisions or hold their hands up to mistakes. Then the respect campaign may just have some clout to it.

In a case of communication or confrontation for football's officials, communication is surely the best option all round.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Carshalton and Co. Up for the Cup

This weekend sees 64 non-league sides take to the pitch, needing just one win to progress to the FA Cup First Round 'Proper'.

For many clubs, it's a great opportunity to draw a 'big name' side, with clubs from Leagues One and Two entering at the next round. Whilst for the top Blue Square Bet Premier teams it presents a chance to draw a smaller club with the hope of progressing and getting a tie with a top Premier League outfit in January.

Ryman League Premier side Carshalton Athletic have already safely navigated their way through three rounds - a feat they've not managed in my eight years of supporting them. Unsurprisingly, the season I don't attempt to get to south London to watch them slog it out against an even more lowly non-league side in the early qualifying stages, they hit a blistering run of form!

Saturday sees the Robins host Blue Square Bet South outfit Chelmsford City - a disappointing tie in the end for the Carshalton faithful ,as their opponents needed a replay to surpass league rivals Bromley, managed by former Robins boss Hayden Bird.

The current man in the Colston Avenue hot-seat, Mark Butler, has seen his side brush aside Tunbridge Wells and East Thurrock United (albeit via a replay) and they're no strangers to beating bigger opposition either, putting four past high-flying BSS side Braintree Town after going a goal down after just five minutes.

The Robins' local-rivals Tooting and Mitcham United reached the First Round last season and were rewarded (?) with an away day at Stockport County, whilst rivals of an even closer viscinity, Sutton United, will always be remembered for their famous Third Round defeat of then top-flight side Coventry City in 1989.

Both of these clubs will be wrapped-up in league action this weekend, however, having had their respective Cup runs brought to a halt. But other ties to look out for include Wessex Premier League Poole Town who host Hayes and Yeading of non-league's top-flight and a local derby between Luton Town and St Albans City . It's the battle of the Boroughs at Priory Lane as Harrow travel to Eastbourne, while Mansfield visit FC Halifax Town of the Evo-Stik Premier League.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Josh McEachran - an old head on young shoulders

Over recent years, several Premier League sides have been lambasted for their reluctance to bring through young home-grown talent, with Chelsea often at the forefront of the media's glare.

And admittedly, since the breakthrough of John Terry to the Blues' first-team an unbelievable twelve years ago (time flies when you're winning trophies...), few home-grown players have made the grade at Stamford Bridge, with many seeking pastures new. Michael Mancienne looks to be the latest of those tipped for great things with the current Champions, only to fail to live upto the hype.

This year, however, things could be very different. A combination of factors look to be coming into conjunction to see not only the promotion but hopefully the prolonged stay of several youngsters to the Chelsea first-team.

When Roman Abramovich arrived in West London in 2003, one of his priorities was for the club to leave their run-down, dilapidated training facility at Harlington and build a modern, state-of-the-art complex at Cobham, complete with huge levels of time and investment in the youth set-up.

The fruits of this are starting to ripen, possibly assisted by new Premier League laws governing a certain percentage of home-grown players in each club's squad - along with an unlimited number of under 21s.

Last season, big things were expected of centre back Jeffrey Bruma, striker Daniel Sturridge, Patrick van Aanholt, Nemanja Matic and Fabio Borini.

And one youngster in particular has already started to make a massive impression with Blues fans this campaign. Not plucked from the list above but from relatively out-of-the-blue (sorry!), midfielder Josh McEachran has burst onto the scene since August, making several substitute appearances not just in the league but Europe as well.

At just 17 (despite easily being able to masquerade as an Under 12 squad player), Chelsea fans have been stunned by McEachran's composure, level-headedness, decision-making, confidence and ability. But not only does he have a great first-touch and an ability to play a pass through the eye of a needle, the youngster has a footballing brain to boot. And, even better news, he's English!

If McEachran can continue his development and keep forcing Carlo Ancelotti's hand into selecting him (even as a substitute), the young midfielder could have a massive future not only for Chelsea but for his country as well. And who knows, when the Blues' current number 8 eventually hangs up his boots, in a few seasons' time we could well be asking, "Frank who?"

Monday, 18 October 2010

London 2012 - A small price to pay?

Last week ticket prices for the London 2012 Olympic Games were announced - and what a mixed bag they offered up.

Amidst fanstastic schemes to keep tickets accessible, including a 'pay your age' scheme for under 16s and the inclusion of a London Travelcard with all Games tickets, little bombshells were also dropped sporadically into the mix, including some tickets for the opening ceremony on sale for £2,012.

But notice how such prices are not advertised as forcefully on the official London 2012 website as their 'accessible pricing schemes' - i wonder why? Embarrassment, maybe?

It's also only apparent in the smallprint that whilst youngsters can pay their age to see some events, this offer will only be in operation for some of the Games - presumably the blue-riband, 100m men's final will be off limits...

And whilst it's great that many tickets are priced as low as £20, how many people will want to sit up in the Gods watching those epic basketballing nations of India and Poland slog it out in the preliminaries - even if it is 'just' £20? Prices for the basketball final, on the other hand, range from a mildly acceptable £95 to £425 - a sum to make even legend Michael Jordan choke on his caviar.

And the best of it is that they're not even the most expensive. Brace yourselves...tickets for the finals of the diving, artistic gymnastics, swimming and beach volleyball are on sale for the small sum of £450...and that's before the touts get involved!

Admittedly there will be sections of the public (namely long-coated, sex-starved, middle-aged men with rather sizeable face-furniture and an aversion to the dentist but with a liking for certain questionable websites) willing to pay these lofty prices for events such as women's beach volleyball, but not your average sports fan and certainly not your average Stratford resident.

Seb Coe and LOCOG have constantly spouted the need to keep tickets accessible, to repay taxpayers whose money has funded the Games and to get youngsters involved with the view to a sporting future.

Great, couldn't agree more. But the prices announced last Friday have done little to support these promises. And are we surprised? Probably not one little bit.

What LOCOG are essentially saying with their pricing structure is - "We've tried to make ourselves look good with a few value for money deals and prices, but to get to any events of note you'll have to remortgage your house. But if you want cheap tickets, there's always the synchronised swimming preliminaries, after all, beggars can't be choosers."

Thursday, 16 September 2010

The kids are alright

London's England's most densley populated city, both in terms of people and football teams. But how do these factors affect those clubs at the lower end of the footballing spectrum, namely in non-league?

AFC Wimbledon manager Terry Brown speaks to Hannah Duncan about the importance of attracting young players and youth development.

The kids are alright

Alec Stewart interview

Former England cricket captain Alec Stewart speaks to Hannah Duncan ahead of England’s one-day internationals against Pakistan.

Alec Stewart interview


Bromley flying high under Bird's wing

Blue Square South side Bromley are top of the league and unbeaten so far this season. Assistant Manager Hayden Bird speaks to Hannah Duncan about the Ravens’ flying start to the campaign.

Bromley flying high under Bird's wing


Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Brand Designs

What do Pride Park, The Emirates Stadium and Coventry’s Ricoh Arena all have in common? The answer is, well, pretty much everything.

Aside from choosing different colours from the Dulux chart, or the odd extra tier here and there, these are just a random selection of three ‘new’ grounds that boast absolutely no character, no identity and no individuality. Welcome to the 21st Century and its Ikea flatpack stadiums.

When the bulldozers moved into such classic grounds as Maine Road, Filbert Street and even the old Wembley (which was admittedly a bit worse for wear), we said goodbye to chunks of footballing history and genuine character.

Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the need for new and redeveloped stadiums. Safety factors, capacity factors and ultimately financial factors all come into play and often result in the requirement for a new stadium, but the one factor lost in all this is that horribly clich├ęd ‘X’ factor.

Throughout the course of my football match attendance days (roughly 16 years), I’ve watched and played games at 97 different grounds. And despite being able to tick off the likes of the new Wembley, the Nou Camp and the New Defence (Horley Town FC for all you non-league foes), my favourite ground is undoubtedly Oakwell. Take a bow Barnsley Football Club.

Oakwell is a ground with amazing atmosphere, real old-skool character and most of all, when you see it on the Football League Show, it’s immediately recognisable as Barnsley’s home (The proper northern style pub down the road also helped – ed).

Fratton Park was another from a similar mould. Alright, so all us Chelsea fans got a right soaking, but for the ‘proper ground’ experience (and the 5-0 win!) it was well worth it. Deepdale, too, deserves a mention.

But for how much longer will there be such stadiums left to visit and enjoy? Talk of new homes for Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton to name a few, mean the likely loss of yet more iconic grounds. And even non-league teams are heading in the same direction - Dartford’s relatively new Princes Park looks like James May had some spare grey bricks left over from his life-size Lego house.

It’s a harsh reality of the modern game. In a sense, the decline in character and individuality can also be seen in aspects such a kit design (oh for the days of Chelsea’s ‘tangerine and graphite’ number) and even managerial press conferences (Mr Mourinho’s eggs and omelettes aside of course).

Some new grounds have tried to replicate or replace old ‘landmarks’, such as the Wembley arch in place of the Twin Towers (admittedly in this case more for structural reasons than sentimental) and in a way, it’s nice that the time is taken and thought given to such traits, but they’ll never truly bring back the history of the Towers themselves.

Whatever highs your club reaches, whether they make a cameo appearance at the Champions League final, the FA trophy final or just manage to scrape three points on a Saturday against the local pub side, you can’t beat an away day at a proper ground, with 4 detached stands, half a roof caving in and a grubby old man in a string vest flipping burgers in the back of a van.

That’s what the beautiful game’s all about and long may it live that way...but I won’t hold my breath.

An Olympic opportunity

Today marks the first opportunity for the British public to volunteer to be London 2012 Games Makers. It’s a real opportunity for everyone to get involved in the world’s greatest sporting event, hosted in our own, wonderful capital city.

With a plethora of volunteering options available, there’s certainly something for everyone - from helping directly with the sporting events, to ticketing, medical services and press operations.

I’m not here to bleat on to you about how you should offer your time and energy (admittedly I’ve just completed my application form), I just wanted to highlight how easy and accessible it is to be part of something the tax payer is paying a fortune for (free for me then...jammy!). And if it persuades one or two people reading this to step forward, then all the better.

The application process itself is quick and simple, especially if you’re looking to kill a few minutes in the office! And the rewards and future opportunities could be sensational. Personally, I want to be part of the Games in some capacity, having resigned myself to the fact that my footballing career won’t kick-off enough in the next two years to be selected as part of the Great Britain team. Damn giving up judo when I was a kid...!

I therefore decided the best way to ensure I’m in amongst the action (hopefully slap bang in the middle of the Olympic Stadium!) is to volunteer and to match-up nicely with my University degree in Multi-media Journalism, I decided my first choice option (applicants get three choices) should be in Press Operations.

The cunning Baldrick-esque plan is to volunteer, be part of the greatest sporting event to come to England in recent times (probably since the 1966 World Cup) and hopefully meet some high flying journos in the process who can offer me a job! Brilliant hey! Well, one can hope...

But aside from the grand plannage side of things, how amazing would it be to be there not only as a spectator – which in itself will be pretty damn amazing (though if I get tickets for women’s beach volleyball they’re going on Ebay!) – but to help make London 2012 the fantastic Olympics it deserves to be.

This has really and inadvertently turned into a recruitment drive blog, so I may as well go the whole hog a whack a link up too. So here you go, volunteer, get involved, be part of London 2012...just don’t make your application better than mine!

London 2012 Games Maker application

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Budget or bust

On a day that’s seen Conference North side Ilkeston Town wound up for good and League One’s Sheffield Wednesday face a narrow escape from the same fate, a new debate over football club finances is likely to erupt.

AFC Bournemouth, Southend, Crystal Palace and Portsmouth (to name but a few) all faced severe financial difficulties and either entered administration or survived winding up orders last season alone.

No longer is it just the odd club here and there with over enthusiastic or downright dodgy owners spending money that doesn’t balance with the income. It’s getting to the stage where it will soon be the majority of sides not just in the red, but covered head to toe in it.

Threats of point deductions for entering administration just don’t cut it. All that achieves is to punish the paying fans and the management and players who have worked day in day out on the training pitch to get the club into whatever league position they’re in. Should a club sustain such a heavy points deduction that their season is concluded with relegation, it’s automatically a downward spiral. Players leave for a better standard of football, the team degenerates and followers (not fans who would stick with their club through thick and thin) turn away and spend their money elsewhere.

But what can be done? It’s not easy to find the right balance of deterring clubs from spending beyond their means whilst also not landing them in more trouble.

Should a blanket law come into place covering all English and Welsh clubs, preventing their expenditure from surpassing their income, it will only serve to stop our teams competing with others across the globe. No longer will our teams be able to sign the best foreign talent ahead of the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Inter Milan. It may even cause our home grown talent to seek pastures new in foreign leagues, where they would have no spending restrictions.

And if the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal can’t continue the relative English dominance in the Champions League, the number of spots for English teams in Europe will decrease, having a negative effect on tv deals. This means the top sides will not only have less money, but there will be less to filter through the pyramid – causing even more financial problems for lower league clubs in particular.

The only real way for football as a whole to move into the black is for FIFA to step in and put similar expenditure laws as outlined above across all of the sport’s governing bodies, keeping clubs from different nations on an even keel.

Whether they take a stand or not, one thing’s for certain, something has to be done to save our beloved game from itself.

"You'll win nothing with kids..."

With the transfer window coming to a close on Tuesday (although not properly locked as Rafael Van Der Vaart still managed to sneak in), Chelsea proved to be one of the least active Premier League sides in the market.

The departure lounge at Stamford Bridge was awash with activity, as we said goodbye to Joe Cole, Juliano Belletti, Ricardo Carvalho and Michael Ballack and good riddance to Deco, but the arrivals gate was comparatively calm.

Ramires proved to be Carlo Ancelotti’s major signing, following Yossi Benayoun to West London, but despite rumours of a replacement for Ricardo Carvalho rife in the press, nothing materialised.

When the 25-man squads were released on Wednesday, Chelsea fell well short of the cut-off mark, naming just 19. It begs the question as to whether Ancelotti is planning to utilize the youth more this season, with youngsters such as Patrick van Aanholt, Jeffrey Bruma and Fabio Borini waiting in the wings, or whether a costly error has been made over the past two months.

With Carvalho linking up with former boss Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid, the Blues have been left short of cover in central defence. Injuries or suspensions to either of John Terry or Alex means Branislav Ivanovic (currently injured himself) will be the likely candidate to be drafted into the middle. No problem as a straight swap, but it leaves the right side exposed to the ‘safeguard’ of Paulo Ferreira – and who knows what he’s capable of! His performances so far this season don’t bode well.

That is unless Jeffrey Bruma, who has just signed a new four-year contract, is deemed ready to step up to the mark. Ancelotti’s youth policy has so far looked promising, ‘blooding’ the likes of Bruma, Van Aanholt and Borini, as well as midfielder Nemanja Matic who is currently on loan at Vitesse Arnhem.

Other youngsters such as Scott Sinclair and Miroslav Stoch have departed Stamford Bridge this summer, indicating that those remaining are a cut above, or else surely they would have followed suit, or at least been shipped out on loan.

Of those remaining, Patrick Van Aanholt is my personal ‘one to watch’. The Dutch defender more than held his own when deputising for Ashley Cole last season, even having the confidence to make several nippy runs into the opposition box.

Sadly one of the brightest youth prospects has had to hang up his boots on his short-lived career in the past couple of weeks. Defender Sam Hutchinson has struggled with knee injuries for several seasons and, despite making a handful of first-team appearances last season, has called it a day at the tender age of 21.

It’s a huge blow both for him personally and for the club – he certainly looked to have a bright future at The Bridge.

But even without Hutchinson in the ranks, Chelsea do appear to have a handy crop of kids waiting for their big chance. And that big chance is likely to come this season with limited senior options available. I’m just waiting for Alan Hansen’s words of wisdom…

England should take Hart from a bright goalkeeping future

Gordon Banks, Peter Shilton and Ray Clemence – an elite group of England goalkeepers whose numbers haven’t grown much in recent times. David Seaman, undoubtedly a contender to be mentioned in the same breath as the greats, sadly had his international career blighted by his ‘flapability’ – notably against Brazil in the 2002 World Cup – leaving our favourite gypsy impressionist just out of contention.

But this evening, as Fabio Capello’s side take to Wembley’s (now much improved) pitch in the first competitive game since the World Cup non-showing, it could be the beginning of a new dawn for England’s number one shirt.

Joe Hart is set to make his competitive debut for his country as England host Bulgaria, following a fine 2009/10 season and a superb start to the new campaign for the youngster.

If you’re not Fabio Capello, you’re probably still of the firm belief that Hart should’ve gone to South Africa as number one in June, but bygones will remain bygones – now is Hart’s chance to shine in a position England have found almost as difficult to fill in recent years as left midfield. Now is Hart’s chance to show why he should have been selected ahead of Rob Green against the USA and to cement (or firmly iron) ‘Hart 1’ on the back of the green jersey.

Admittedly, the former Shrewsbury man has little competition on the international stage at present, but that shouldn’t detract from his quality and what he can achieve. He has not become first choice for a lack of alternatives, if anything he makes the alternatives look thoroughly non-league.

That’s not to say we should be swept up into a new ‘Golden Era’ frenzy. Yes, Kieron Gibbs, Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and Hart himself should be the future of England, but so once were Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and John Terry…and look where that got us.

Hart is quick to say he is a long way off becoming a permanent fixture between the sticks for his country - he’s not yet certain of keeping Shay Given on the sidelines at Manchester City. But against Bulgaria tonight and Switzerland on Tuesday, the 23-year-old could take a big step to staking his claim for the shirt. His predecessors Scott Carson and Rob Green have both looked good in friendlies but crumbled under the pressure of a competitive situation. Let’s hope Hart doesn’t go the same way – I’d put a sizeable bet on him not.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Time to ring the Bell on Pietersen's Ashes?

With England's batting form in their last three Test innings more dismal than the current bad weather that keeps interrupting play, questions are starting to be asked regarding the batting line-up for The Ashes.

With Kevin Pietersen unable to play so much as a recorder at the moment, let alone a nicely timed cover drive or even one of his trademark cringeworthy sloggy sixes, do the selectors need to take action or is it too late?

In his Test innings against the touring Bangladesh and Pakistan, Pietersen has so far recorded a very modest average of 27.75. For a number 4 batsman, Mr Pietersen, that's quite frankly not good enough.

But who, if anyone, to replace him with? England have no Test series' remaining before travelling Down Under, so to unsettle the side could be catastrophic. However, there's an option which would rock the boat slightly less, in already established Test international Ian Bell.

Before his season was hit with a metatarsal injury (yep, one of those again!) in the recent One Day series, Bell was flying - averaging 61.8 in the Tests with Bangladesh (home and away) and South Africa at the turn of the year. That's much more in-line with the form expected and required of a number 4. Infact, even opening batsman and captain Andrew Strauss could do himself a few favours by following Bell's lead.

So, fitness providing, there is a ready-made replacement for Pietersen waiting in the wings. But the question still remains as to whether it would be best for the team to suffer changes with no Test preparation remaining. Sure, Bell knows the players and the set-up, he's far from a newby to the scene. But he has been playing at number 6 recently and his form has vastly improved for it. Whether he could handle the pressure of stepping back up the order is another matter - not that he has particularly big boots to fill right now!

And if it was deemed best for him to remain at 6, that leaves the question of whether the other players could remain settled whilst shuffing up or down the order themselves. The England selectors need to weigh-up whether bringing back Bell from injury, undoubtedly having a better season than Pietersen to-date, is worth the risk of unsettling the batting cohesion.

But with Old Father Time watching over Pietersen's latest Golden Duck at Lord's this afternoon, maybe the clock is ticking for the out of form batsman.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Have England's opponents been hot enough preparation for The Ashes?

Tomorrow brings the fourth and final Test between England and Pakistan this summer, with the hosts taking a 2-1 series lead into the match at Lord's. Having already cleaned up in a series against Bangladesh earlier this season, Andy Flower's men need just a draw to claim a second summer series. But with The Ashes just around the corner, have the opposition really tested England enough ahead of the crucial winter Down Under?

Bangladesh, whilst improving vastly since their introduction to the Test scene just 10 years ago (it's that old friend Wiki again!), are still a second-rate nation when compared to other Test sides like South Africa, India and Ponting's lot. So, fair enough for a warm-up series before the heavy stuff kicks in. Afterall, it was only 2 matches and with a 'bigger' nation still to visit. England, for the record, won by 8 wickets and an innings and 80 runs in the respective Tests - fairly hefty victories.

But that anticipated visit from a 'bigger' Test nation has yet to really materialise. Ok so Pakistan managed a deserved 1-1 draw with Australia in their series hosted in England last month, but their erratic and often schoolboy form (with the fielding making Rob Green's hands look watertight) when facing England has only really served to confuse poor Alistair Cook, who couldn't manage a decent innings if his life depended on it when Pakistan were awful, then when they finally got their act together in the last Test, managed a superb 110. Go figure!

Overall, the series can't be considered great preparation for the tour of Australia where, despite their average form against Pakistan, Ricky Ponting's lads are guaranteed to hit the peak form, on their own turf, dictating the way they want the matches to go.

With England probably reaching their best, most consistent form for many a year, experts say we should return from Down Under with the little urn tucked safely in Andrew Strauss' blazer pocket. The cricket fans among us, however, think it'll be the same old story, the same old 5-0 series whitewash.

Certainly, it should be our best chance to come back home with heads held high, even if not having retained The Ashes. But with stiffer competition leading upto the tour to really test our mettle and get heads focussed, maybe the odds would be that bit shorter on an English victory.

It's all in the wrist action

In the wake of this summer's World Cup, talk of technology in sport is more rife than ever before. As the goal-line technology debate rages on (and on and on...), as both the tennis and cricket worlds embrace the concept of 'challenges' and with the new Nike football replacing the discredited Jabulani, a new game-enhancing concept has shot its way into the sporting arena almost completely unnoticed.

Introducing the Power Balance wristbands. Boasting a stark similarity to the so-last-year Make Poverty History bands and the Livestrong bands enhanced by sporting great Lance Armstrong, these new additions to the sporting world are making waves across the pond.

NBA giants the Phoenix Suns were the first to sport the new wristbands, designed to enhance balance, strength and flexibility due to their hologram technology and they seem to be an increasingly big hit with basketball players, mountain bikers and surfers alike.

Power Balance's official website claims, "Power Balance is Performance Technology designed to work with your body’s natural energy field.

"The hologram in Power Balance is designed to resonate with and respond to the natural energy field of the body."

But can they really do what the promoters claim? Manufacturer after manufacturer believe they have the latest technology to enhance sporting performance. Adidas seem to incorporate some form of new gizmo into Chelsea and Liverpool kits every season (remember when a new home shirt used to come out every other year?!), with their current techy addition being ClimaCool - supposedly keeping players cool and sweat free. It certainly worked for Michael Ballack! But it's surely all just a load of old tosh?

Certainly, the way Power Balance has grown in the US with very little promotion and marketing is not to be sniffed at and may even suggest that there's something in the company's assesment of the product. But at the end of the day, it's a hologram - a shiny, funky piece of plastic. Nice to look at, yes. Improving human talents and abilities, unlikley.

So could sporting success soon be all about the wrist action? I'll let you decide.

It's a scandal that Youth Olympics aren't older

This month has seen the inaugural Youth Olympic Games, hosted brilliantly (so I'm told) by Singapore. The Games were brought in as a replacement for the World Youth Games under the watchful eye of IOC president Jacques Rogge since 2001 (Cheers Wikipedia!).

But with the full-scale, all-singing all-dancing modern Olympics having been around since 1896 (thanks again Wikipedia), it does beg the question as to why it's taken a lengthy 114 years to give young, aspiring athletes a taste of the world's greatest sporting event.

Whilst, in practice, the World Youth Games probably did do the job - giving youngsters the chance to mingle with athletes from other nations, compete on a world stage and fly a mini-flag for their country (or parents' country, grandparents' country, pets' country in many cases) - it's never quite the same as having the Olympics tag latched onto it.

More so than any other name, logo or institution, the Olympics (and Paralympics) really is something special and it's nothing short of scandalous that youngsters have only just been afforded the chance to compete in their own version.

Ok, so the format has been slightly altered (more on that later) from it's big brother and it has been used as a trial for new events such as the team Triathlon - a stonking success if you believe organisers. But some alterations, such as the emphasis on education and culture and the requirement for the athletes to remain in the Olympic Village for the 12-day duration of the Games, allowing youngsters to mingle and experience the city, can certainly help to reduce complaints from headteachers about taking children out of school!

Some improvements, in my opinion anyway, could still be made as the Youth Games establish themselves over the coming years. As I previously mentioned, the format is not quite the same as the full-scale Olympics, with basketball becoming 'streetball' (innit!) and many disciplines and events not being included on the schedule. Those given the axe include water polo, synchronized swimming (sorry, did I say that was a bad thing?!), the slalom discipline of canoeing and road and track cycling. These ommissions are a huge blow to those athletes who specialise in these areas, refusing them the opportunity to experience Olympic competition at an age where they could be easily swayed away from sport, towards sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll...or something like that.

Really, to make it worthwhile and live up to the Olympic name, it should be all or nothing. Either you give the young athletes the full Olympic experience, or you don't bother at all and reinstate the World Youth Games.

The Olympics are a huge pull for youngsters into sport, especially when their nations and subsequent heroes are succeeding and such an event should be used to its full potential. If kids know that at the age of just 14 they can be competing in an Olympic event as opposed to the unheard of (to them anyway) World Youth Games or the less spectacular London mini-marathon, it would encourage so many more to get into sport and to stick at it.

It's all a snowball effect. Get the kids into sport by having successful role-models and exciting opportunities for them at an early age, improve the pool of athletes to choose from at a later date, improve competition amongst athletes in a nation and therefore be more successful on the global, adult stage...which then gets kids interested all over again...

With the first Youth Winter Olympics due to be held in Innsbruck, Austria in 2012, things certainly seem to be moving in the right direction - it's just a shame youngsters couldn't have been afforded such opportunities sooner.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

2 games, 12 goals, I make that Pimms o'clock! - But the hangover will kick in eventually.

So the Champions-elect have got the defence of their title off to an absolute flyer. 2 games, 12 goals, I make that Pimms o'clock!

Undoubtedly, Manchester United fans up and down Torquay will be spouting off about how Chelsea have only faced two relegation favourites, but as the old addage goes - 'You can only beat what's in front of you'. And beat them they did. To a pulp, infact.

Now, there's little chance of things carrying on in the same manner, someone will cripple Didier Drogba eventually - afterall, Stoke travel to Stamford Bridge on Saturday! (*Disclaimer* That comment is in no way reflective of Stoke's style of play or Tony Pulis's approach to the game - ed).

And when the Blues do end up pottering past Pulis' side by just the solitary goal or two, the whines from the nuveau Chelsea followers will ring around The Bridge. Can't wait...

Now, I'm not overly sure where the remainder of this blog is going, infact I'm not overly sure where the already written bits have actually been. It's more of a rant than anything at how the expectations are going to soar and bracing all three people reading this for calls for Ancelotti's head after two dire away draws with West Ham and some unheard of European team.

That's it, my lightbulb has switched on...it's a call for patience and for Chelsea fans, the media and Christine Bleakley to keep their feet on the ground. Chelsea may well go on to win the title, maybe even claim another domestic double, but it's a marathon not a sprint and we've barely seen the back of Greenwich Park.

Certainly, the Blues' start bodes well for the remainder. It's a start no other English top-flight side has benefitted from this season - and I don't just mean in the 'goals for' column. It's a rare sight that only one side has gained maximum points from the opening two fixtures, but one which I'm certainly not comlaining about.

But when Michael Essien picks up his customary long-term injury, when Salomon Kalou remembers that he's not a goalscoring forward and when Wayne Rooney remembers that he is, we'll all be on an even footing again.

And as exciting as it would be for the blue-clad area of London for normal service not to be resumed, the footballing world may benefit from the status quo. (As long as Chelsea still go on to win the League, Cup and Champions League, anyway!)

Chelsea, sport and ripe tomatoes

For the first post of my new blog 'Sporting Behaviour', I thought I'd discuss what I know and love best - Chelsea! With my blog titled as it is, I'm attempting to force myself to discuss all things well...sport - in an attempt to differentiate this one from my other blog dedicated to all things Chelsea. (Which can be found here, by the way...). So if at any point you find me getting too football or Chelsea-sentric, feel free to yell, stamp your feet and pummell me with rotten tomatoes!

But just to get underway, I'm going to be kicking things off happily sitting in my comfort zone, so just for this week, ripe tomatoes only please!

Thanks for taking the time to read through my ramblings, I hope they're not remotely sensible, insightful or educational! Enjoy.