Tag Archives: Football

The lamest excuses in sport

After turning in one of their worst performances of the season, the New York Knicks offered up a bizarre excuse for their 106-88 loss to the blossoming Oklahoma City Thunder.

Why did they succumb to the 30 points poured in by superstar-in-waiting Kevin Durant and the athleticism of rising tyros Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green? It was the coaching schemes or dodgy rims. No, the Knicks players blamed the loss on the fact that their game preparation had been disturbed by staying in a haunted hotel.

There might even be a shred of merit to their claim. For years, guests at Oklahoma’s Skirvin Hilton have reported ghost sightings and strange noises. Legend has it that sometime in the 1930s, a woman jumped to her death while holding her baby in her hands.

It was all too much for 7ft, 300-pound center Eddy Curry. The seldom-used big man fled his 10th floor room in terror, seeking sanctuary in guard Nate Robinson’s quarters. Another Knicks player, Jared Jeffries, described the hotel as scary and said he definitely believed in the ghostly legend.

Odd excuses have been a staple of defending poor performances for many years. So much so, that the Sports Bloke decided to list his own particular favourites.

1996 – Manchester United’s grey shirt problem
Managers in the English Premier League are never shy when it comes to making excuses for poor showings by their teams. Inevitably, it’s never their fault. In his 23 years in charge at Old Trafford, Sir Alex Ferguson has become a past master of explaining away defeat. His most famous excuse came in 1996 when, trailing 3-0 at half-time to Southampton, Ferguson ordered his players to change from the grey strip  they had been wearing to an alternate blue kit. Ferguson later explained the grey kits had ruined his team’s passing game because they were having trouble seeing each other on the pitch. As bizarre as this sounds, statistics suggest Fergie may have had a point. United lost four of the five games they played wearing the grey kit before it was retired from use.

2001 – Tight slacks and shirts ruin Sri Lanka’s big day
When Sri Lanka lost the ICC Champions Trophy final to Pakistan they didn’t blame the defeat on their batting, bowling or fielding. No, their loss was due to their tight-fitting clothing. According to captain Sanath Jayasuria, their kit was too small and restricted their movement and mobility in the field. He described the team’s shirts as tight-fitting women’s blouses. The team’s tailor was subsequently instructed to make their kits one size larger but it was too late to avert defeat in the showpiece final.

2007 – Stephen Ireland’s “dead” grandmother
Manchester City midfielder Stephen Ireland pulled out of a crucial Euro 2008 qualifier for the Republic of Ireland after claiming his maternal grandmother had died. Unfortunately, the media discovered Ireland’s nan was alive and well. Ireland then changed his story, claiming it was in fact his paternal grandmother who had shaken off this mortal coil. It was then revealed that this nan was also very much alive. Eventually, Ireland came clean and admitted he simply missed his girlfriend and wanted to go home.

1992 – Lighton Ndefwayl goes on the offensive
Zambian tennis player Lighton Ndefwayl could have easily reacted to defeat in a local tournament in a mature, considered way. Luckily for this particular article, he singularly failed to do so. After falling to defeat against compatriot Musumba Bwayla, Ndefwayl described his opponent as a stupid man and a hopeless player who sported a big nose and cross-eyes. He added for good measure “Girls hate him. He beat me because my jock strap was too tight and because he farts when he serves. This made me lose my concentration, for which I am famous throughout Zambia”. ‘Nuff said!

2003 – Mervyn King and the air conditioning
Darts stars Mervyn “The King” King and Raymond “Barney” van Barneveld faced off in the semi-final of the 2003 BDO World Darts Championships. When Barney prevailed, King blamed the loss on the air conditioning in the areana. King said he has asked for it to be turned off once he had taken the stage. Surely the pumped-in breeze would affect both players ability to punish the 60 and hit their doubles. Not so, claimed King. He explained that “the air conditioning doesn’t affect Raymond because he throws a heavier dart and a very flat dart”. For the record, the tournament organisers confirmed that the air conditioning had been switched off for the entire match.

Advertisements

5 Comments

Filed under Basketball, Cricket, darts, Football, lame excuses in sport, nba, New York Knicks, Tennis

Sport’s most memorable David vs Goliath moments

British heavyweight boxer David Haye faces a mammoth task in Nuremberg tonight as he attempts to wrest the WBA Heavyweight title from the mountainous champion Nikolai Valuev. The Hayemaker is dwarfed by his 7ft 2in opponent to such a degree that the fight couldn’t possibly be billed as anything other than David vs Goliath.

The idea of the overmatched underdog taking on and beating an opponent with superior strength and talent is one of sport’s most compelling dreams. But it doesn’t always work out that way. And there’s more to the David and Goliath concept than seemingly mismatched individuals, sometimes it can relate to entire teams.

To mark David Haye’s world heavyweight title challenge, the Sports Bloke has compiled a short list of the most memorable David vs Goliath moments in sport.

1) Nate Robinson rejects Yao Ming
November 2006, Madison Square Garden. The New York Knicks defending their homecourt against the Houston Rockets. Rockets all-star, 7ft 6in Yao Ming receives the ball in the low post and prepares to make a jump shot. From the weakside, the Knicks ever-energetic sixth man, 5ft 7in Nate Robinson goes airborne to swat Yao’s shot away, poking the “Great Wall” in the eye for good measure. You’d like to think Yao’s teammates ensured he never lived this down. Winner: David
Watch: Nate Robinson rejects Yao Ming

2) Jonah Lomu dominates Tony Underwood
New Zealander Jonah Lomu burst onto the world sports scene courtesy of his dominant performances at the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Left-winger Lomu, described by England captain Will Carling as a physical “freak”, was the size of most forwards but with pace that would shame most backs. You had to feel for the opposition right wing who directly faced him.
When New Zealand faced England in the tounament’s semi-finals, Tony Underwood had this onerous task. He was dwarfed by Lomu’s size and destroyed by his strength. Lomu ran rings around him for 80 minutes, running in four tries as New Zealand cruised into the final. At one point, Lomu actually ran over Underwood and teammate Mike Catt before crossing the line. Winner: Goliath
Watch: Jonah Lomu destroys England

3) The ultimate act of FA Cup giantkilling
The 1988 FA Cup final proved beyond doubt that David can defeat Goliath in a team game. In the red corner, Liverpool, the finest team in the country, league champions with international class players throughout their squad. In the blue corner, Wimbledon, the team known as the Crazy Gang, a team of wind-up merchants renowned for their long ball tactics, who, 10 years previously, had been playing in non-league football.
For Goliath, read John Barnes, Peter Beardsley and Alan Hansen. For David, read John Fashanu, Dave Beasant and Dennis Wise. In TV terms, it was the equivalent of the University Challenge episode of the Young Ones where Vivian, Neil, Mike and Rik represent Scumbag College against a team of Oxbridge toffs.
However they managed it, the Dons got under Liverpool’s collective skin. They had the temerity to take the lead when Lawrie Sanchez flicked Wise’s free kick inside Liverpool’s far post. When Beasant saved a John Aldridge penalty (the first in FA Cup final history), the game was up for Liverpool. They were the victims of the most famous FA Cup giantkilling. Winner: David

4) When Goliath squashed David
Whether or not you consider professional wrestling a sport, there’s no denying that Wrestlemania 3 provided the WWF’s ultimate David vs Goliath moment. And I’m not talking about the Hulk Hogan vs Andre The Giant main event. Cast your eye further down the card and you’ll see a six-man tag team match featuring King Kong Bundy and two midgets vs Hillbilly Jim and two midget partners.
Memorably described by commentator Gorilla Monsoon as “a condominium with legs”, the 440-pound Bundy made an ultimately forgettable (and possibly bad taste) match memorable when he was disqualified for body-slamming the 4ft 4in, 60-pound midget Little Beaver and followed it up with his trademark giant elbow drop. Winner beyond doubt: Goliath
Watch: King Kong Bundy marmelises midget at Wrestlemania 3

5 Comments

Filed under Basketball, boxing, David vs Goliath, Football, nba, Rugby

Brett Favre and the most infamous traitors in sport

NFL legend Brett Favre was subjected to a cathedral of catcalls and jeers when he took the field for the Minnesota Vikings against the Green Bay Packers, the team with whom he made his name. The fans at Lambeau Field had waited two years and two aborted retirements to vent their frustrations over the way Favre seemingly extricated himself from Green Bay after the 2007 season.

Favre was Green Bay’s favourite son. He bought the city a Super Bowl triumph in 1996, broke numerous NFL records as a Packer and provided more dramatic finishes and comebacks than any other NFL player. But when he retired in tears in 2007 only to unretire within weeks to play for the New York Jets, some of that goodwill was extinguished. Yesterday we found out just how much. While there were pockets of appreciation for Favre when he took the field, they were drowned out by swathes of booing each time he was involved in the action.

Always one for a flair for the dramatic, Favre got the last laugh, throwing for 244 yards and four touchdowns as the Vikings triumphed 38-26 over his former team. In honour of Favre’s return to Green Bay, the Sports Bloke takes a look at more sporting stars who turned their backs on their teams and examines what happened when they returned to their former homes.

Paul Ince
Say what you like about fans of Premier League football club West Ham United, but don’t deny they have any competition when it comes to holding grudges. Self-styled ‘Guv’nor’ Paul Ince was a product of the club’s youth academy and an England star in the making. In 1988, he decided he wanted to play for a bigger club. Rather than go the traditional route of lodging a transfer request, Ince instead chose to pose for the newspapers in a Man U shirt long before the deal had been finalised. Having forced West Ham’s hand, Ince got his big money move to Old Trafford. He probably didn’t anticipate the two decades of dogs abuse, incessant booing and Judas chants he faced whenever he played against West Ham for Manchester United, Liverpool and Wolves.
Hammers fans didn’t even let it go after Ince retired as a player. He received his now-traditional welcome as manager of Blackburn Rovers when he bought his team to Upton Park in 2008. Before this game, Ince commented that he felt, 20 years after his minor indiscretion, that the abuse was almost good-natured now. Sorry Paul, you’re wrong. You’re still hated at West Ham and here’s a measure of how much. When I was last betrayed by a good friend, I changed his name in my mobile to Ince. And it stayed that way for two years until things got sorted out.

Kevin Pietersen
Some players are reviled for turning against their clubs, cricketer Kevin Pietersen was accused of turning against his own country. Frustrated by the lack of international opportunities available to him in his native South Africa, KP moved to Nottinghamshire to play county cricket. Once he qualified to represent England, it seemed fitting his first major one day series came in his homeland. Every time Pietersen walked out to bat in the series, he received a barrage of boos, jeers and catcalls by sell out crowds of up to 50,000 angry South African fans. It was his reaction to the abuse marked him out as a special player. The caludron of hate didn’t make him quake, it merely strengthened his resolve. Pietersen reeled off scores of 108 in Bloemfontein (where the crowd turned their backs to him when he returned to the pavilion), 75 in Cape Town, 100 of 69 balls in East London and 116 at Centurion.

Sol Campbell
Sol Campbell was so revered by Tottenham Hotpsur fans that it’s probably fair to say that, faced with staying with the under-achieving North London side or moving to a more successful team playing Champions League football when his contract expired, there wouldn’t have been too many complaints if he’d chosen to leave. After all, he’d given Spurs over a decade of loyal service. He could have gone to Italy or Spain and Tottenham fans would have wished him well. They might have grumbled a bit if he’d signed with Manchester United or Liverpool. The only move that would provoke anger would be if he signed with London rivals Arsenal. But that wasn’t an issue because Sol had already said there was no way he could ever play for the Gunners given his long history with Spurs.
And then he signed for Arsenal. The reaction to Campbell when he returned to White Hart Lane as an Arsenal player was bitter and abusive. It continued whenever he went back, culminating in fan arrests over a chant directed at the England star which contained the delightful rhyming of the phrase ‘swinging from a tree’ with the insult ‘Judas C*** with HIV’. Campbell is a lying traitor to Spurs fans, but that chant is all kinds of wrong.

Roger Clemens
In 2001, Bill Simmons wrote an ESPN column explaining why, in the eyes of Boston Red Sox fans, pitcher Roger Clemens was the antichrist. After 12 seasons in Boston, Clemens slapped Red Sox in the face by moving to Toronto for money and then holding a press conference in which he failed to make a single reference to his former club. The slap in the face became a full boot to the nether-regions when he forced Toronto to trade him to New York in 1999 to play for Boston’s hated rivals the Yankees. And don’t forget, when the 2000 MLB All-Star game was played at Fenway Park, Clemens again ignored the obvious chance to pay tribute to his former fans, choosing to wear a Yankee cap instead of a Red Sox one. And so, Clemens was given the bird by Boston fans every time he stepped foot in Fenway over the next eight years. Post-retirement steroid and adultery accusations ensured they got the last laugh.
Simmons sums up the feelings to Clemens by saying “No athlete ever let me down quite like Roger Clemens did. Fortunately, we can take solace at the potential sight of Clemens standing on the field at New Fenway, maybe 40 years from now, being introduced on Old Timer’s Day 2041 … and getting showered with boos from Red Sox fans. “I can’t believe they still haven’t let this go,” he’ll mumble to himself, a thin smile spread across his face, oblivious to the bitter end, still waiting for the fans to come around. Not a chance.”

Elton Brand
It remains to be seen what kind of reaction NBA star Elton Brand will get when he eventually returns to Los Angeles to play against his former team the Clippers. It’s probably a good bet he’ll get booed out of the building. Here’s why. Brand was instrumental in convincing Baron Davis, then starring for the running and gunning Golden State Warriors, to move to LA. As soon as Davis inked his new contract, Brand announced he was off to Philadelphia to play for the 76ers after his negotiations with the Clippers broke down for vague, unspecified reasons, leaving Baron without help on one of the NBA’s most cursed and under-achieveing rosters.
Is there karma at work on this one? Maybe? After a rickety start with Philly, Brand went down injured and disappeared for the season. The 76ers played better without him. The Clippers recorded just 19 wins but won the draft lottery and picked up college phenom Blake Griffin. Of course, it being the Clippers, Griffin was injured in pre-season and is currently on the DL for the next 20 games.

1 Comment

Filed under Baseball, Basketball, Cricket, Football, nba, NFL

The battle of London’s two forgotten football clubs

Friends of the Sports Bloke will be familiar with my growing disillusion with the hype-ridden circus of the English Premier League. So, rather than continue whinging, I decided to do something about it over the weekend. I went to Brisbane Road to watch Leyton Orient’s League 1 clash with London rivals Brentford.

I have a little bit of history with both teams. Orient were the closest club to where I grew up in East London. They also had a player with the same name as me who played a major role in their promotion in the 1988/89 Division 4 playoffs. Most decisively, one of my best mates is a season ticket holder, something I can’t say about any other League 1 club. As for Brentford, their ground is about two miles from where I live now and a friend of mine once played for them. On balance, and partly due to the fact that I was sitting with the home fans, I decided to shun the Bees and support Orient for the day.

Of the many football clubs in London, you could probably make an argument that Orient and Brentford have enjoyed the least success over the past two decades. Orient have taken some FA Cup scalps and lost two playoff finals and Brentford reached the Championship for a brief period but neither club can match, say, Fulham’s rise from the basement of English football to the Premier League, or QPR’s fifth place Premier League finish in the mid-nineties which briefly made them the capital’s top club. If anything, the Bees and the O’s are London’s forgotten teams.

That’s not a criticism. In fact, from my own admittedly distanced perspective, it’s actually a bit of a bonus. What’s it like to watch a football match untarnished by tabloid and television hype? Pretty enjoyable all told. Here’s why…

For the first time in ages, I watched football without the merest hint of someone suggesting that, as they had paid for a ticket, they had a right to be entertained. Only in the Premier League, home to the nouveau fan, does this expectation exist. If you want sports entertainment, go and watch WWE wrestling. The fans at Brisbane Road hadn’t come for entertainment, they had come to see their team play and, regardless of the result or standard of performance, wouldn’t be on the phone to Spoony 10 minutes after the final whistle threatening to tear up their season ticket.

And there were some excellent individual performances for the crowd to enjoy. Orient centre forward Scott McGleish was the epitome of the seasoned old pro. Although he can’t be taller than five foot eight, McGleish won almost everything aerial that came his way, always making sure he stole a glance before leaping to ensure he’d guide his header into the path of his (fairly hapless) strike partner Ryan Jarvis. With Brentford 1-0 up thanks to a Carl Cort (remember him?) header from a poorly defended free kick, McGleish missed a first half penalty to equalise. Undeterred, he found the net shortly after with a swivelling first-time half volley that nestled in the bottom corner. He consistently held the ball up well, used his body to successfully battle for second balls and generally terrorised Brentford’s centre backs on the way to a man of the match performance.

When Stephen Purches came on at right-back for the home side in the second half, he shored up the right flank and allowed local lad Andros Townsend to wreak havoc on the wing. Townsend is by no means the finished article – his final ball and awareness of when to make the right pass will definitely improve – but his ability to run fearlessly at Brentford’s defenders created a sustained period of pressure that led to Orient’s winner. There was an inevitable feeling that a goal was coming. Orient dulyobliged when Bees’ Danny Foster headed Townsend’s devilish cross into his own net. The O’s prevailed 2-1 to record their second home win of the season.

After the game, McGleish and his teammates stopped in the West Stand bar to chat with fans. Post-game beers were duly downed by happily relieved fans and chuckles eminated from near the TVs as West Ham’s away defeat at Stoke was confirmed (local rivalry is local rivalry, regardless of what league you are in). My mate and I had a chat with a bloke called Peter, an Orient supporter for 40 years, who got us a beer and later gave us a lift to the pub.

I later tried to think about why I’d enjoyed my day watching Leyton Orient far more than any Premier League match I’d been to in recent years. And I think it comes down to this. The word ‘Club’ in football club is still emphasised in League 1. Orient fans aren’t at the games because it’s fashionable. They know the ins and outs of the team because they seek out the information, as opposed to having it continually rammed down their throats by newspapers and radio phone-ins every single day. The players aren’t impossibly distanced from the fans. As a result, the fans feel a human connection with the players who perform for them every week and with the club itself. They rightly feel part of a club whereas Premier League fans are treated as customers paying for a service, one they are told they should feel grateful to watch.

This is not an idyllic view of how football should be, it’s how proper football actually is and, prior to 1992, was in every division in this country. It’s the Premier League clubs that have got it wrong.

I can’t speak for other teams outside the Premier League but I’d like to think what I found at Brisbane Road over the weekend is something all supporters of supposedly unfashionable, forgotten teams can relate to. Maybe I’ve got rose-tinted glasses because I don’t watch Orient every week. You could argue that I’ve over-romanticised things to suit my dissatisfaction with the Premier League but I don’t think that’s the case.

I can definitely say this for certain: I’ve been bored with football for the past three or four years but felt totally immersed in the game I watched at the weekend. So it looks likely that I’ll be back to watch the O’s again soon. I’ll be the bloke wearing the Scott McGleish replica shirt.

1 Comment

Filed under Football

Basketball in Britain mirrors soccer in the States

In two short hours, the Chicago Bulls and the Utah Jazz will tip-off at London’s 02 Arena in front of a sell-out crowd. It’s the third successive year that an NBA pre-season game has taken place in London and, for the third year in a row, all the tickets were snapped up months before the game.

Although the league has only taken tentative steps in the UK, interest in the NBA here is definitely rising. With the 2012 Olympics on the horizon, we have a competitive national team, a couple of recognisable faces playing significant minutes for NBA teams and some TV commitment from Channel 5 and possibly ESPN.

Basketball is starting to gain traction in the UK in exactly the same way the English Premier League (EPL) is enjoying increasing popularity in the States. Why? Because people want to see the best. The British Basketball League (BBL) can’t boast players of the same calibre as the NBA just as Major League Soccer can’t compare to the quality of play in the EPL, La Liga or Serie A. Forget patriotism, fans want the spectacle, the stars and the big crowds that come with the top sports products.

Thanks to satellite TV and the Internet, US soccer fans and British NBA fans now have easy access to sports that were previously all but inaccessible. Two seasons ago, I survived on one NBA game a week and got my basketball fix by going to a few BBL games. Last season, I subscribed to NBA League Pass Broadband and was watching 20-25 games a week.

The same thing is happening with soccer in the US now. Major League Soccer, boosted by the David Beckham hype machine, draws decent crowds but, beyond the die-hards, has no impact on American sporting culture. It’s visibly an inferior product. However, once ESPN began showing the UEFA Champions League and the EPL in the States, people sat up and took notice.

With the likes of Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and Steven Gerrard appearing on American screens, the interest started to grow. NBA writer Mark Stein revealed himself to be a long-time Manchester City fan who makes an annual trip to Britain to watch games. The Champions League was discussed semi-regularly on PTI. Even Bill “I don’t do British” Simmons, opined on his methods of selecting a Premier League team to root for. As a lifelong West Ham fan, it absolutely killed me he, just like Steve Nash, picked our arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur.

What else do Americans get from watching English soccer? I think the crowds play an enormous part. I’ve been to NBA and MLB games in the States and there’s definitely a vibe of enforced participation. it’s easy to tune out snatches of music, organ riffs and instructions to clap your hands and become a silent spectator. Imagine if this is your traditional experience of live sport and then you see, say, a Liverpool vs Manchester United game with unprompted full-on chanting and singing for the entire 90 minutes. Surely you’d be hooked, or at least want to experience that for yourself in person.

So, how will basketball capture the imagination of British sports fans? The American emphasis on each game being an “event” will definitely help. The draft adds to the impression that any team is capable of winning a championship. There’s a lot of jaded football fans in Britain tired of a league that only two or three teams can win. What’s the point in paying throught the nose for a season ticket when the best your team can realistically do is finish 11th? I’ve followed the New York Knicks for 20 years. The last seven seasons have been awful. But free agency in the NBA gives fans hope. The Premier League can’t say the same.

And with that said, I’m off to the 02 to watch some high quality hoops.

4 Comments

Filed under Basketball, Football, nba, Sport

Fabio Capello gives England every reason to believe

The dust has settled on England’s excellent performance against a disappointing Croatia at Wembley seven days ago. England’s five-star, five goal effort against a team who, less than two years ago, were considered the Three Lions’ nemesis-in-chief, secured World Cup qualification with two group games remaining.

It’s easy to get caught up in hysteria around the England football team. No sooner had the final whistle blown and journalists, pundits and fans were speculating on just how far Fabio Capello’s squad can go in South Africa in the
summer of 2010.

I don’t think we can draw any firm conclusions from the qualifying campaign. Many teams have dominated their groups in qualification only to flop in the finals. England in the 1988 European Championships immediately springs to mind. But England’s performance last week did provide firm evidence of the squad’s improvement under Fabio Capello and the methods the Italian has employed to get the most from his squad of highly paid superstars.

Capello described England’s performance in the first 30 minutes of the Croatia game as “perfect”. He praised his team’s passing, work-rate, pressing and movement. Contrast this with the nervous ineptitude of the same players under Steve McClaren against the same opposition two years before. Thanks to Capello, England are now a cohesive unit with a team ethos. Each player knows his role, understands his responsibilities and realises that any dip in performance will see him dropped. In short, Capello has made playing for England a privilege that must be earned and the players have responded.

Equally important is Capello’s relationship with his players. Unlike McClaren and Sven-Goran Erikkson, he has no interest in being their friend. He stands apart as their boss and his respect must be earned. After the final whistle against Croatia, skipper John Terry bounded towards Capello looking to put the Italian taskmaster in a celebratory bear hug. Don Fabio’s reaction? A simple, business-like handshake on a job well done. The England team is no longer the cosy club headed by JT, Stevie G and Wazzer or the better-to-be-lucky-than-good Eriksson regime where David Beckham received preferential treatment.

The dramatic two-year turnaround in the team’s fortunes has also confirmed one my own pet theories concerning the England team namely that there are just a handful of coaches able to successfully manage an elite group of English players. With wages and egos way out of control, any sign of weakness or ineptitude from an international manager is going to make these players switch off. Put it this way: who do you think has the gravitas and experience to make them listen and work? A man whose greatest achievement was to reach the UEFA Cup final and get thrashed or the man who has won league titles in Spain and Italy and a couple of European trophies to boot?

Aside from Capello, only Mourinho, Ferguson, Wenger, Hiddink and, at a stretch, Guardiola and Lippi, appear to have what it takes to command the respect and attention of a group of England players.

That aside, with qualification in the bag, what can we expect next summer? Anyone who tells you England will win the World Cup is a liar or at the very least a well-meaning optimist. England’s strong qualification puts them in a group of contenders trailing favourites Brazil and Spain. They number one of five or six teams who could win it if things go their way.

But predicting anything more than that is fanciful. And here’s why. Rooney, Gerrard et al are firing on all cylinders now. Next summer, they will have at least 60 more games in their legs. If recent seasons are anything to go by, most of England’s stars will see late season action at the latter stages of the Champions League. Come the World Cup, some will be knackered while other might not even be fit at all.

Secondly, there’s no telling how these players will respond to high-pressure situations. Can England win a game if they are reduced to ten men? How will they react if they fall victim to a chronic refereeing blunder? And what on earth will happen if the dreaded spectre of the penalty shootout appears on the horizon?

Capello’s England have not had the opportunity to answer these questions yet. We’ll only find out in South Africa. Yet, just two years on from McClaren and the most recent nadir of the England national team, Capello has instilled belief, passion, pride, skill and effort back into this side. Right now, expectations are rightfully high. Come next summer, we will be among the contenders. As for winning the World Cup, let’s be quietly confident, leave the WAGs at home and see how far this team can go.

1 Comment

Filed under Football, Sport

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1