Thursday, 11 October 2012's over!

Well well well. It was only yesterday that I was bemoaning the lack of decent sporting stories to write about, and then the mother of all bombshells was dropped by USADA last night. Since their damning report on Lance Armstrong was released Nicksportsrant has been lapping up as many of the 1000 pages of evidence (whilst working of course) and it is truly incredible stuff. True enough, some of it is regurgitated old hat stuff that we already knew about, but a lot of the new material is simply astonishing.

Witness after witness describes in graphic detail the lengths that this uber cheat went to in order to out-dope the competition and encourage other riders to follow his lead.

I don’t blame readers of this rant for not going to the USADA website and filing through an, at times, exhaustive array of documents. However if you have a genuine love of cycling or are interested in putting to bed the heroic pantomime show that is Lance Armstrong’s cycling career then I suggest you do. In particular read the testimony of his once best friend Frankie Andreu and that of his once trusted lieutenant George Hincapie. Having done that, go to the financial records that show Lance Armstrong syphoning huge amounts of money into a notoriously bent doctor’s (Michele Ferrari) account. Then have a look at some of the evidence given regarding associates of Armstrong threatening potential witnesses. Once you have done all this sit back and think to yourself; is there really any doubt now?

In between reading the report and working, I have become increasingly agitated by those personalities within cycling and individuals allied to Lance Armstrong who continue to churn out the same old comments on various media channels: “it’s a vendetta”, “it’s politically motivated”, and the even worse “well everyone else was doing it” and “he passed over 500 tests” and the one that annoys me the most “Lance hasn’t had a chance to defend himself”. Firstly he was given the option to defend himself in a court-like setting but chose not to. Secondly as is proven in the documents of the report Armstrong actually only ever passed around 200 tests which he found laughably easy to dupe. Finally the report shows that everyone else was not doing ‘it’ and certainly not to the same degree as Armstrong was.

So what happens now? It would be nice to think that Armstrong could come out and admit that he was wrong to dope. Unfortunately he still has too much to lose from coming clean and will perhaps take it with him to the grave. However his image is toast, his legacy destroyed, and his achievements tainted beyond repair. Lance Armstrong the man, the American hero, the miracle worker, no longer exists, and that’s a good thing.

There is of course the fact that the man has done a lot of positive work for cancer charities and of this there can be no denying his integrity. How unfortunate it is then, for him and his legal team to use that charitable work as a smoke screen or a type of get out of jail free card when any doping allegations are brought against him.

But that’s enough about Lance Armstrong. How will the sport he so skilfully plundered of its moral fibre recover in light of this report? Many people within cycling have already been showing their faces on news channels, and the standard message they’re sending is that this report harks back to a bygone era of cycling. They make it sound as if Armstrong was cycling back in the 60s. If cycling genuinely believes it no longer has a problem then its recovery will be doomed from the outset.

Team Sky like to extol the virtues of their tough anti-doping code, and yet only last year they hired  Dr. Geert Leinders who was synonymous with doping at the Rabobank cycling team. It should be made clear that Team Sky then fired the doctor, but only once the media had made a stink about it. Lance Armstrong’s main partner in crime Johan Bruyneel is still the general manager of a high profile professional team called RadioshackNissanTrek and even though he didn’t travel on the Tour de France with the team because of the allegations, his name remains on the team’s website. Sure enough at this year’s Tour de France star rider Frank Schleck was caught using a banned substance riding for, you guessed it, RadioshackNissanTreck. Finally how is the UCI’s president still in a job? The organisation obviously facilitated the cover up of Lance Armstrong’s doping program, so how is Pat McQuaid still the head of the sport?

Cycling has a rich history of doping. Even vaunted names such as Eddy Merckx and Jacques Anquetil were found to be cheating as early as 1961. It seems that the sport has simply decided that the search for athletic perfection must include the use of banned substances and trying to alter mind-sets in 2012 will not be easy. However in bringing down the sport’s most high profile figure, USADA may just force the UCI and the Tour’s teams to once and for all, clean up their act!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

I couldn't leave football alone for long!

There are some fascinating news stories circulating at the moment: A Mexican drug baron’s body is stolen from a morgue, Jimmy Saville was obviously doing a little more than just ‘fixing it’ for the UK’s children, most of Greece wants to decapitate Angela Merkel, and a man is about to free fall from the stratosphere. Surely the world of sport can come up with something equally riveting. Well, not really. The tennis season is all but over after the US Open finished, the same can be said for golf now the Ryder Cup is done, and all that leaves us with is motorsport and football.

Starved of anything else to comment on I have decided to be drawn back into the murky and depressing world of the once beautiful game. I know I said I would be boycotting it in all its forms, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and after all it’s not as if I’m going to be in the least bit positive about the sport.

On the same day that a new centre of excellence was opened by Kate and William, who undoubtedly have no interest what so ever in the game, the football related stories that littered the back pages of the day’s newspapers were depressing to say the least; The continuing fall out surrounding the John Terry racism affair, managers and players accusing fellow managers and players of cheating, and of course a customary managerial sacking.

The two stories I want to focus on are Ashley Cole’s Twitter rant and diving being described by FIFA as a cancer. The latter is an issue that I take about as seriously as an episode of Eastenders. As a junior footballer I used to dive around theatrically for many reasons. I liked to play the fool and make my school friends laugh at my audacious attempts to con the ref (usually our sports teacher Mr Duke who would simply scowl at me and shout “get up Owen!”), I also enjoyed glancing over at my dad who’d be going a deep shade of red as he explained to fellow spectators that he hadn’t taught me how to dive. It always shocked me just how irate people could become all because I’d drawn them into a reckless challenge that led to a free kick or penalty. In one particular Sunday league game I won two penalties in one game and nearly got beaten up by the opposing side, who just couldn’t work out how to stay on their feet. I bet that even as I write this now there will be some of you fuming in front of your screens.

But let’s be serious for a second here. Diving is in essence, cheating. So how do the powers that be stop it? There’s the idea that a ban for the offending player would solve the problem, but would it? What if it’s an FA Cup final and a player dives to win a last minute penalty? That player doesn’t care if he receives a 10 game ban. No, that idea won’t work. What about video evidence during a game? Well has anyone watched an El Clasico game? The match would be stopped every 30 seconds as Messi, Ronaldo, and Co did pirouette after triple salco. No, that won’t work either.

The answer to this dilemma is that there is no answer. The onus to change things remains with the players themselves and managers. In other sports this might work. Eye gauging is, now, a rare occurrence in Rugby, golfers regularly tell officials if they should be penalised for a breach of the rules, and tennis players often correct calls in favour of their opponents. The stakes are just as high for these sportsmen as they are for footballers, so why can’t the PFA and the Managers Association get together and make a pact to eradicate diving from the game. If you do dive, just get up and have the decision reversed. So simple, but this would work….. or would it?

This brings me onto issue number two. We must remember that many Premier League footballers are the scum of the sporting world. Ashley Cole, perhaps forgetting the colour of his skin, has taken to Twitter to defend his ‘friend’ and captain John Terry who was charged with having made racist remarks towards Anton Ferdinand. Before Twitter was invented the voices of the likes of Ashley Cole would never have been heard. Unfortunately, these days lazy journalists love to scour this world of the #whogivesashitwhatyouateforbreakfast to find their story of the day. Personally I would have it written into a player’s contract that they can’t use Twitter. What’s the point? It’s not quite the same as following a musician, an artist, a politician, or a comedian. Nothing a Premier League footballer has to say is interesting, and if they do then why not do an interview with someone who might extract a little more than just “the FA are a bunch of twats”.
Of course footballers will continue to use Twitter and journalists will continue to quote their pathetic ramblings, diving will only get worse, and football will continue to dig its own grave, one slow agonising shovel at a time.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

In the hoooooole!

Oh that’s right! The big old U S of A had to get down on its hands and knees and take a long smooch on Europe’s glistening bare bottom over the weekend and wasn’t it a sight to behold!

I’ve never been a huge fan of golf, let alone watching it. I’ve always viewed it as less of a sport and more of a hobby or maybe a game, and to be honest the Ryder Cup hasn’t changed my mind in this regard. However no one can deny the scream at the screen tension and excitement that this one particular event brings to the table.

Very rarely does the world get to sit back and openly cheer as the most powerful nation on earth crumbles, yet at the Medinah Country Club exactly that happened. The beauty of it all was compounded by the fact that the American’s had set themselves up for such a mighty fall. The feigned enthusiasm of Phil Mickelson, the deranged eyes of Keegan Bradley, and a Chicago crowd that only knows one song (you know what it is I don’t need to repeat it).

So where is the rant here? What grievances do I have to bear on this remarkable event? Well, I dislike the pretentious music and montages that Sky TV use to make us think we’re actually watching a World War 2 documentary when in fact we are watching over paid, would be car salesmen, hit a little ball around a field. I also reserve special mention for Colin Montgomerie. If the man had uttered the words “we must silence the crowd” in his non-existent Scottish accent one more time I would have launched my cup of tea so hard at his head that he would have felt it through the television set. Indeed the only reason he hates the Americans so much is because they never let the giant sheep lookalike win a major.

All that said, I still loved every minute of it. It was even worth watching, the cringe worthy at times, final ceremony. All the WAGs waving their flags and reminding themselves that the embarrassment will be offset with a holiday in the Bahamas, Jason Dufner’s hair, the booing of the Scottish 1st Minister as he tried to deliver a tourism advert for his country, Tiger Woods sitting, unmoved, considering which of the country club’s barmaids to make a move on. All of it was brilliant.

I of course will now go back to not giving a rat’s arse about the game, but in two years’ time I’ll be back on my sofa getting ready to take aim at Monty’s oversized head once again!

Friday, 14 September 2012

One last shot for the Hitman!

So it's official, Ricky Hatton is to make a return to the squared circle. Most pundits and punters seem to be voicing concern over the Hitman's comeback, and perhaps rightly so. In his last two fights the Manchunian fighter was knocked unconscious by Manny Pacquiao having already succumbed to the great Floyd Mayweather. It seemed as though his promoting/training career was going well (although he had just lost the support of Sky Sports) and he was recovering well from drink and drug issues. So why is he back? What more does he have to prove?

The simple answer is; that after Money Mayweather and Pacman Pacquiao there is no one out there in the Light Welterweight/Welterweight world that will worry him, especially the men who’ll be his main British rivals Kell Brook and Amir Khan. Brook was pushed all the way by a mediocre American last time out and Khan was flattened by an equally one dimensional slugger. The plan will no doubt be to have a tune up fight before going on to face Khan in the New Year, or Brook if the King gets beheaded again.

I understand why many don't want to see Hatton return. Friends don't want to see him get hurt, his fans don't want their great memories of him tainted, and rival promoters are worried about how much money he'll take away from their shows. But surely the only person who matters in the making of a decision is the man himself. He's been through everything the sport has to offer, the crushing lows, the dizzying highs, and the drug assisted comedowns from those highs, and yet he still wants another shot. Hatton has never done anything the easy way. His fighting style meant that every top level fight he participated in was a toe to toe slug fest. Therefore we should have known that Ricky wasn't simply going to skulk off into the night and settle on a career behind the scenes.

Hopefully his comeback will be a success and won't end in a sad 'I told you so' from his detractors. There is, though, another issue that should be mentioned. Ricky Hatton gave his word to a number of bright young British prospects that he would train, mentor, and promote them. I sincerely hope that the Hitman can still deliver on those promises, if he doesn't and his fighters begin to desert him then what will he have left when his fighting career truly does come to an end?

If done right this comeback could be a great thing for boxing, its fans, and Hatton himself. I just worry that if his house comes tumbling down around him, for the second time, that the drink and drugs could return to haunt him worse than ever before. The team around him need to be planning for both eventualities and make sure that Britain's favourite fighting son has solid ground under him if he falls this time, and not the gaping void he was presented with last time out.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The Olympic legacy could be the death of football.

Before the Olympics started I have to say that I wasn't really caught up in all the hype and expectations that surrounded the games. However as the days went by and Team GB's medal haul began to grow it was difficult not to get swept along with the tide of good feeling that spread across the nation. What particularly struck me was how well spoken and gracious both in victory and defeat all the athletes were. However when the closing ceremony ended I didn't really think I'd miss the Games. I wouldn't lose sleep over not being able to see people doing sports that I know little or nothing about, would I? Well not until the football season kicked off.

Suddenly the sporting perfection, sportsmanship, camaraderie and humbleness that was seen in London was put into true perspective by the (mostly) sub human scum who jog around professional football pitches every weekend. In the 1st week alone of major European domestic league action; Newcastle's manager had pushed a linesman, Juventus' title winning manager was banned for match fixing, Robin Van Persie joined Arsenal's rivals Man Utd all for a few extra bob a week, and Rangers were relegated because they were formerly owned by a crook.

Yes it really hit home. Was I really going to have to go back to watching cheating, moaning, overpaid, thankless, yobs after having been treated to one of the best sporting highlights that I have ever seen? Well I know one thing for sure, however difficult it may be to not get drawn into the Premier League saga in England I will try my damnedest not to!

Hopefully a few people within football's governing bodies will have been affected in the same have, and if they weren't then they should have been. I don't think I'm alone with being disillusioned by football in its current state. Our national side is barely followed outside of major tournaments and England fans were hardly rushing to travel to Poland and the Ukraine for the Euros, the Olympic football team fell flat on their faces but no one cared, and I believe it will only be a matter of time before interest in the Premier League begins to wane as well.

How can any fan possibly feel an allegiance to, or bond with any of today's football clubs. My team for example, Hull City, have become nothing but a feeder club for Premier League teams, so every six months the team sheet dramatically changes as loan players are switched back and forth just as fans were beginning to learn about their players. A ticket to watch these hastenly assembled misfits can cost as much as £30. I guarantee that you could go and watch an athletics meeting, a cycling race, an amateur boxing event, and any other Olympic featured sport for less than that.

Football fans need to wake up! They are being fleeced and yet they happily go back time and again just to show their 'loyalty'. What they must now ask themselves is whether these teams and their players are actually worth any sort of loyalty let alone hard earned cash.

This isn't the only thing that fans should be asking themselves. The Olympics also brought home to me that sport is something that's there to be done not just watched. Many people round the country will no doubt be riding a new bike and growing Wiggins-esque side burns this autumn, a lot of folk will be dusting off their running shoes and pounding some pavements. However because the Premier League doesn't promote the true values of 11 a side football 11 a side teams are actually dwindling in number across the country. Let me tell you now when you have the option to play a game for real or to watch it you should always play. Don't listen to Sky Sports telling to you to catch every game of the season, don't listen to the clubs trying to steal half your weekly wage for gate receipts, take a step back and think what else could I be doing with my time. Do I really want my kids to grow up with Suarez, Rooney, and Barton as their idols?

For me the London Olympics' true legacy will have been that people saw for just two weeks how sports should be contested. There must be alot of people doing some soul searching in football grounds up and down the land, as they're faced with a league that sold its soul and whose legacy could well be the beginning of the end for the beautiful game.    

Monday, 29 August 2011

A sprint of farce!

I can't say that I'm a huge fan of athletics. In no way can i imagine anything more boring than simply running in a straight line, or jumping (high or long) or throwing a stick or a plate as far as I can! However it has to be said that the 100m finals at major events do have a certain appeal. The athletes in this event are a little more flamboyant, you have in the back of your mind that they may well be goosed up on steroids, and to top it all off they can run like the clappers! All this makes for a semi-exciting spectacle.

Of course just at the minute one man in particular draws the attention of the masses like no other, Usain Bolt. On Sunday I was sat at work when I remembered that the great Jamaican would be about to feature in the World Championship's 100m final. So I stopped working and tuned in. Before the race had even begun I was aware that any false start made by an athlete would result in immediate disqualification and I even joked with a colleague about the possibility of Bolt having to take a back seat having been too eager at the first attempt. Then, as we now all know, he did just that. The whole stadium in Daegu fell silent in shock and I just sat there dumbstruck as a Korean official who took his job far too seriously attempted to usher the fastest man on earth off the track.

When my jaw finally picked itself up off the desk, I got to thinking: Why was athletics single handedly destroying itself. I can guarantee that as soon as Bolt was disqualified a large proportion of the watching audience either turned off their TV or began a Mexican wave in the stadium out of sheer boredom. The man everyone had come to see was denied his 10 seconds in the sun and everyone apart from athletics aficionados all of a sudden couldn't have cared less who won the race. I can't even remember the other Jamaican's name but I do know he only ran 9.94 which Bolt would have obliterated.

Is this a rule that will be enforced at the Olympics? Can you imagine the world being denied a proper 100m final? I would rather they were all on drugs than see the best men ousted due to a technicality. Part of the drama of the 100m in previous years are the false starts; will they get away this time, who can leap out the blocks at the perfect moment, which men can keep their composure.
The two strikes and you’re out rule seemed to work a lot better and was fairer on the racers and the spectators. Whoever is in charge of making these decisions needs to revert back to how the race used to be run before London 2012 is mired with controversy!

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Sack them all!

Premier League clubs showed this week that they're still capable of wasting money on a vast scale! 24 million pounds for Darren Bent is in my opinion tantamount to shooting ones self in the head, somehow living to tell the tale, and then reloading and going for it again. Yes he scored tonight on his debut but in fairness a blind antelope could have knocked that one in. I'm confident in saying that if Randy Lerner knew as much about football as he did about the NFL then he would not have spent the GDP of a small nation on a man whose done nothing except look ordinary his whole career.

Anyway I'm getting sidetracked. It wasn't Darren Bent or the money involved that wound me up this week. Instead it was managers moaning about the improper conduct of their colleagues and the injustice that exists in the business of football. Steve Bruce in particular amazed me with his, close to tears, news conference where he voiced his shock and dismay at having his star striker bought from under his nose. Earth to Steve... Earth to Steve... Come in.... you do realise your club just received 24 million for Darren Bent! There's no doubt in my mind that when this deal was slapped on Niall Quinn's desk the shrewd Irishman first of all choked on his morning coffee, danced a quick jig, and then signed on the dotted line in lightening fast time.

But Steve still isn't happy, he feels besmirched, he feels like the world is against him. What winds me up even more is when we hear managers come out with the classic "this is the toughest job in the world". This usually comes out of their trembling lips when one of their fellow old boys club members is about to get the boot for being incompetent. Sam Allardyce is of course the latest. A man who subjects fans of the teams he manages to some of the dreariest slop of an excuse for football, Big Sam was amazed that new owners might actually want to attract fans with a more exciting brand of football. Ian Holloway and a whole host of other managers were out entertaining us all with vitriolic attacks on club owners. What they won't mention of course is the massive pay off that their buddy will be getting which will allow the hard done by individual to bask on a Caribbean beach for the rest of his life, if he so wished.

Let’s be honest where else on this cut throat planet could a man lacking; even the most basic English language skills, general business know-how, and life skills in general, still command a million pound salary. Only in football! Pundits talk about managers (usually their dad i.e: Jamie Redknapp) in glowing terms, extolling the virtues of their superior man management skills, and their tactical genius. To be honest I think Steve Bruce has headed so many balls in his time that his already limited brain would be incapable of genius of any variety. And as for man management I think most school teachers are probably more grounded in how to control a bunch of spoiled brats.

What Managers fail to realise is that owners are owners because they are successful in the real world. Not the make believe cloud cuckoo land that is the Premier League. Therefore when a man who has made millions of pounds from not just kicking a ball around wants to change his management team he probably has good reason. I'd love to know just what Sam Allardyce presented to his new bosses to convince them to let him stay. I imagine it would have been along the lines of a scribbled note on the back of his morning's sausage role paper bag, perhaps backed up with a gruff remark, and maybe even a burp. Lets be honest the man wouldn't look out of place in a dodgy 2nd hand car dealership.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think I am. It's why the few good managers that exist tend to stay quite quiet when a sacking takes place. Ferguson tends to just shake his head and sigh when confronted with the news of yet another sacking. Arsene Wenger develops a sly French smirk and then comes out with some PC bullshit that he's programmed to say on such an occasion. Why do these top dogs not come out all guns blazing in the defence of the likes of Sam Allardyce? I'll tell you why. It's because they know the truth. The reason they stay in their jobs is because they are the minority amongst managers who can actually do the job. They know how bad the rest are because they invariably beat them week in week out. However these stalwarts of the game probably are a little envious of some of their inferior rivals, as Wenger and Ferguson haven’t had a day's paid gardening leave in years! Maybe it's time for them to get lazy, start moaning, and join the club!