Monthly Archives: August 2009

All in the game: sportsmen who could be characters in The Wire

A recent Guardian Football Weekly podcast suggested that The Wire’s Baltimorean drug lord Marlo Stanfield would be adept in the English Premier League owing to his uncanny ability to take corners.

The Wire is, in my humble opinion, the greatest TV show ever made. I love it almost as much as I love the sporting endeavours of Steve Nash, Tim Lincecum and Stuart Broad. So, with props to James Richardson and Co for getting the cogs of my brain to turn, the Sports Bloke presents a list of sportsmen who could be characters in The Wire.

Detective Jimmy McNulty is… Andrew Flintoff
McNulty, a supremely talented murder investigator acknowledged by his peers as “natural po-lice” but with an appetite for booze-based self-destruction. Sounds similar to a certain English cricketer we all know and love? Like McNulty, Flintoff has infuriated his bosses and colleagues at points of his career only to be welcomed back into the fold thanks to some superb individual efforts. Both men also ended up “riding the boat” or, in Fred’s case, a pedalo, after cracking under the pressure of their day jobs.

Avon Barksdale is…  Ricky Ponting
At one point, Avon ruled the Baltimore drug trade. His position was untouchable thanks to the support of Stringer Bell and his enforcers Wee-Bey, Stinkum and Bird. As captain of Australia, Ponting dominated world cricket thanks in part to his cricketing “muscle”. For Bell, Bey, Stinkum and Bird, read Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden. When Barksdale lost his lieutenants, he lost control of the game and was jailed at the conclusion of series three. When Ponting attempted to regain the Ashes without his best players, he came up short too.

Bunny Colvin is…  Isiah Thomas
Colvin created Hamsterdam, a chaotic open drug market in which dealers and hoppers could operate free from the threat of arrest. In the world of sport, only Isiah’s tenure as New York Knicks general manager comes close to matching Colvin’s lunacy. Bad trades, horrific man management, a crippling wage bill and a well-publicised sexual harassment scandal all punctuated Zeke’s time in charge at the Garden. If anything, this comparison is unfair to Bunny Colvin.

Ellis Carver is…   Tony Adams
The Sports Lass is convinced the overriding theme of The Wire is the redemption and evolution of Ellis Carver. When we first meet Carver, he and partner Herc specialise in cracking heads of dealers “the Western District way”. As The Wire develops, so does Carver. Stung by his betrayal of Cedric Daniels in series one, he ultimately discovers a more cerebral approach to policing, softening to the point where he attempts to adopt young Randy Wagstaff in series four. In sport, only ex-gooner Tony Adams can rival such a transformation. In the early 1990s, Adams was a booze hound who spent Christmas in jail. Ten years later, he was quoting philosophy, earning a university degree and learning to play the piano.

Omar Little is…  Kobe Bryant
Prior to being gunned down by young Canard in series five, Omar scratched out a profitable living as a stick-up artist par excellence inhabiting a lonely world somewhere between the police and the street. Like Omar, Kobe is also an outsider. He grew up in Italy and entered the NBA aged 17, unable to relate to the locker room banter and bling. However, his solitary existence has never stopped him from excelling professionally. Omar’s focus in his vengeful pursuit of Avon Barkdale’s crew in series one is eerily reminiscent of Kobe’s cool detachment as he fired the Lakers to NBA championship victory over the Orlando Magic earlier this year.

Proposition Joe Stewart is…  Harry Redknapp
Prop Joe survived the ravaged Baltimore streets thanks to his ability to strike deals to save his skin. His “buy for a dollar, sell for two” ethos echoes that of Spurs manager Harry Redknapp, a man who cuts deals for football players as readily as Joe distributes dope. Like Joe, Redknapp has an ungrateful nephew which means Cheese – played by Staten Island’s streetwise troubadour Method Man – must be Chelsea’s Frank Lampard.

Marlo Stanfield is…  Kevin Garnett
After ousting Avon Barksdale as Baltimore’s drug kingpin, Marlo and his crew ruled the streets with a mix of cold-blooded intensity and instant vengeance. Like Marlo, KG is the most intimidating figure in his arena, instilling fear into opponents and teammates (remember when he made Glen ‘Big Baby’ Davis cry on the bench) alike with his demands for 100% loyalty and effort. It’s no stretch to imagine Garnett evoking Marlo’s credo “my name is my name” in response to hecklers in opposition arenas.


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Hirsute heroes: the greatest beards in sport

The Denver Nuggets cult shot-blocking star Chris Andersen has revealed plans to go from Birdman to Beardman. According to the Denver Post, Andersen was recently spotted in Yellowstone National Park sporting a “thickening beard” complimenting his many tattoos.

The Nuggets big man explained he has no intention of shaving until his wedding which takes place in June 2010. By which time, Andersen will most likely resemble a towering version of 1970s kids TV star Catweazel or Mick Fleetwood’s younger brother.

Andersen’s commitment to season-long face fuzz could ultmately place him in sport’s hall of fame for hirsute heroes. Here’s my current top 5 beards in sport.

Bill Walton
Paving the way for the Birdman, NBA legend Bill Walton’s unique ginger “chinstrap” beard and long red hair combination struck fear into the hearts of anybody foolish enough to take the ball to the hoop in the 1970s. Walton own view: “I had the only beard in the Western Hemisphere that made Bob Dylan’s look good”.

Mike Commodore
Ice hockey is a sport where beards are commonplace but no player matches the fantastic furriness of Mike Commodore. Cross Ronald McDonald with a lumberjack and you’ll be close. Commodore’s run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2004 with Calgary and with Carolina two years later gave his beard more than enough exposure to earn a place on my list.

Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart
Augmenting his US marine-style jarhead with a ZZ Top goatee gave Jim Neidhart a unique look. The Anvil, with partner Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart was a two-time WWF tag team champion in his grappling prime. And before you correctly point out that wrestling isn’t a sport, Neidhart makes the list thanks to his pre-wrestling NFL experience with the Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys.

Alan Cork
Footballers tend to be a superstitious lot and former Crazy Gang member Alan Cork was no different. In 1993, Cork was playing for Sheffield United and refused to shave in a bid to keep the Blades’ FA Cup run going. The result? A grey/white beard akin to that of Christopher Lee in Lord of the Rings that added a good ten years to Cork’s appearance. The beard was eventually removed after the Blades were knocked out at the semi-final stage by city rivals Sheffield Wednesday.

Howard Eastman
Howard Eastman’s noble dyed blonde beard was later replicated by French footballer Djibril Cisse but the credit must go to the British middleweight boxer. Eastman’s look was an extension of his somewhat eccentric personality but it couldn’t help him overcome William Joppy and Bernard Hopkins in his two world title challenges.

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How England can still win the Ashes

OK, cards on the table, England were royally hammered by Australia at Headingley Carnegie in the fourth Ashes test. The Swagmen, handed an early advantage by England’s profligate batting against the swinging new ball, dominated every facet of the match to win in two and a half days, levelling the series with one test to play.

A number of commentators, bloggers and prognosticators view Australia’s win as a critical turning point in the series. After all, the men in baggy green caps now have all the momentum, have the three leading wicket takers and have made seven centuries to England’s one. The hosts, riddled by injuries and self-doubt, are certain to fall to another defeat at the Oval in the fifth and final test. Right? RIGHT??

Believe it or not, despite all the negative press hysteria, it is still possible for England to win this Ashes series. Or at least I think it’s still possible. Here’s how:

Add experience and character
England’s extensive back room staff have taken responsibility away from the players for their mistakes. Obsessed with “taking the positives” out of each abysmal effort, players like Ian Bell have become cricketing automatons, unable to think their way around problems they face on the field. Shane Warne recently made the point that Monty Panesar hadn’t played 35 tests because he’d played the same test match 35 times. This comment cuts to the core of problems in the England camp. Experience, the sort gained in the heat of battle in a tight game, is sorely lacking. England must drop Bell for Robert Key, a man who was sledged mercilessly by the Aussies in 2002/3 but came through it to earn their respect, promote the resourceful Kent skipper to number three and bolster the ailing middle order.

Let Flintoff play regardless of his injuries
The importance of some things can’t be measured by statistics. Whether he’s 100% fit or hobbling on one leg, the presence of Andrew Flintoff will provide England with a massive boost at the Oval. The talismanic all-rounder simply has to play. In addition to his excellent bowling, Freddie galvanises the England dressing room and his presence alone should be enough to coax better performances from the likes of Jimmy Anderson. In what will be his final test match, the big man is guaranteed to give England a titanic performance.

Win the toss and bat and bat and bat
Last week, I watched Mark Ramprakash cruise to 274 for Surrey against Leicestershire. While the 39-year-old batsman doesn’t deserve an England call-up, his exploits at the Oval gave a timely preview as to what both teams can expect from the Kennington pitch. The Oval is a batman’s paradise and England must exploit it to the full. The best way to do this is win the toss, bat for two days, put the Aussies under scoreboard pressure and use the spin of Swann (and possibly Panesar) and Fred’s reverse swing to win the game on a wearing fifth day pitch.

Don’t buy into Aussie superiority
Forget the stories of Australia’s bowlers taking four games to acclimatise to English conditions and now being at the top of their games. Siddle, Clark and Hilfenhaus looked superior at Headingley because Australia were so far ahead of the game that they were able to bully England’s timid batsmen. But that was one game with conditions in their favour and England faltering under pressure. Remember Lord’s, where the Aussie bowlers were flayed to all parts of the ground by rampant England batsmen. In that situation, they were the ones under pressure, looking ordinary and unable to respond. It happened again when Broad and Swann got on top of them at Headingley. I’d argue that we haven’t seen both teams at their best simultaneously in any session in this series so far. It would be special if both teams clicked into prime form at the Oval.

Don’t rip the team to shreds
England’s selectors should take a good look at the treatment of Mitchell Johnson before taking the hatchet to their team. Short of form, Johnson eventually benefited from the faith shown in him by Ricky Ponting and bowled Australia to victory at Headingley. He now has a more than respectable 16 wickets for the series.

England should not make more than one batting change for the Oval test. As I’ve already said, I’d drop Bell for Key to add some guts to the middle order. What I wouldn’t do is drop Ravi Bopara or Paul Collingwood for debutant Jonathan Trott or veteran Mark Ramprakash. Play Key at three, Colly at four and Bopara at five with Prior, Flintoff and Broad adding firepower at six, seven and eight. Anderson and Swann retain their places with Panesar replacing Harmison only if the pitch is dry and spin-friendly as expected.

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Who is the Sportsbloke and what’s the point of this blog?

To paraphrase Henry Hill from Goodfellas, ever since I was a kid I wanted to be a sports writer. Not a reporter, not an interviewer, just a bloke who writes about sport. Now, after freeing up some time and overcoming my inherent apathy, I’ve finally got round to building this blog.
The idea is this: write some interesting stuff based on my life as one of the most sports-obsessed people in the UK. That doesn’t mean I’ll only be writing about British sports. There’ll be some cricket and some football, but there’ll also be basketball, baseball, NFL – all written from the perspective of a man who’d rather sit up all night watching basketball games online than get a good night’s sleep and rather spend a day watching county cricket than going to work.
So, what about petty bias? There’ll be plenty. As a lifelong West Ham fan, I hate Spurs. As an England cricket fan, I’m not averse to giving the Aussies some clog. Stateside, my teams are New York’s Knicks and Giants and, in baseball, the San Francisco Giants. I also carry a torch for the Golden State Warriors. These are the teams I first saw live in the US and my allegiances were born there.
Finally, the fact this blog exists at all is due to the genius of ESPN’s Bill Simmons, a man able to seamlessly fuse sports writing with comedy, pop culture and obsessive fandom.
Stay tuned! The first Sports Bloke column is in the works. In the meantime, follow me on Twitter.

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