Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Ashes Fever Fully Infected

We are now on the eve of what I have to say is easily my favorite sporting event in the calendar. I love the ashes and everything that it stands for, great history, intense rivalry and mutual respect for the opposition. I feel that in a lot of sports in the modern era there is too much hate being banded around. If you look at the way football has been over the last few decades you could argue that sporting rivalry has gone too far when a police presence is needed to separate fans, but this is a story for another day.

I find that the banter that runs through the ashes has to be one of the highlights as it still shows that sportsmen, fans and pundits can enjoy a good ribbing but still finish the day with a beer in hand to reflect together on how their teams have faired in battle. I couldn’t imagine a series without a Glenn Mcgrath 5-0 prediction running through the air, or Geoff Boycott lambasting pretty much everyone for not being as good as he was but its all in good jest.

Anyway now my romanticism for a utopian sporting world is over let’s get down to the real business, who will win this time down under. England has one goal and that is to come home with the urn but for Australia this series seems to mean so much more than that. Australia’s illustrious cricketing history over the past 25 years is as unprecedented as the great West Indies teams of the 70’s and 80’s so it is remarkable to see that their standards have declined so rapidly. It is understandable that you cant replace players like Gilchrist and Warne but the gulf has been so dramatic it makes you wonder where the youth coaching has been when Australia were dominating the world. Sadly it seems that they were so preoccupied by their successes that they didn’t plan for the future. Maybe this is a little presumptuous but there talent in the Aussie ranks is sadly not what it used to be. As Michael Atherton wrote this week “from baggy greens to saggy greens” seems apt. If they do not win this time around or even get off to a good start then the status of cricket in Australia will fall further and that can only be bad news long term for this great sporting nation.

As far England the changes in the last 4 years since the 5-0 drubbing down under are incredible, following England has been a real joy since the Strauss and Flower regime took charge. The sleek and professional approach that they have brought to the set up is now paying dividends as I can see a team now pushing to be the very best in all formats of the game. There is even a strength in depth which is rare for England as a couple of injuries would usually prove fatal to any chances of a series win but now you see that they have multiple back up bowling options and if Eoin Morgan cant get in the test side and rightfully so then you have got to be happy with the guys that are out there.

So with England almost at the peak of the world game and the Aussies having slipped from the summit where will the urn be come the end of the winter. If you look on paper it is almost a no contest of Haye vs Harrison proportions but of course we all no it is not as simple as this. Australia may be in a state of disarray and there is a feeling around the country that this generation doesn’t make the grade but I wouldn’t rule them out just yet. They are a patriotic bunch and wont let the Poms just come in and take what they claim to be there own. Also England hasn’t won down under in so long I can barely remember it and you can’t underestimate the powers of psychology in professional sport. So I can see 5 tough and hard fought test matches but with England having the edge with the superior talent and they also now come possessed with a mentality of winners rather than the fall guys I will give them the series by 1 or 2 tests.

The person who will suffer most for this will be Ricky Ponting, a man I can only sympathize with because if England walk away from this tour with the urn in hand he will go down in history as the captain who lost the ashes three times and was at the reigns when everything went wrong. This is a shame because in my opinion he is Australia’s finest batsmen since Bradman and his loyalty to the cause has been outstanding. Unlike his predecessors he hasn’t has the luxury of just being able to give Warne the ball when things were not looking too good and letting him save the day.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The England Team and How to Fix It

It was not my intention to write two articles so close together when I came up with the idea of this blog but I just cannot resist it after watching another dismal display from England last night.

Since the disappointment of South Africa all of us as fans have been crying out for change but it is clear that this change has not come. Capello told us that he would, Team England said that they would and the players also claimed that they would change but the phrase “don’t p*ss in my pocket and tell me its raining” comes to mind. From where I was sitting last night (on my sofa admittedly) I can see no change whatsoever from the summer apart from those forced through injury. I have not been buying the smugness from Fabio that he is giving youth a chance as I am sure had everyone been fit Henderson, Carroll and Gibbs would have been left on the sidelines to watch the same old guard fail in the same old way and everyone having the same old moans. Same old England I hear you cry!!.

There are some serious problems from top to bottom in the English setup and this can be seen by everyone except the people who can actually make the difference here. The England team’s future is not dead, far from it. I don’t buy into the usual clich├ęs about too many foreign players not giving English youth a chance or too many kids playing Playstation instead of kicking balls around the park until Mum calls them in for tea. The fact is that kids play football and will always play football, the past was not a utopia filled with kids just playing football, there has always been distractions from the model train set to the space hopper so nothing has changed in that respect. I also firmly believe that all the foreign influence has done is raised the bar so only the elite make the grade which has raised the standard of the England team. During the 80’s and 90’s it wasn’t always a certainty that we would qualify for major tournaments and now it’s a disgrace to not make it. Also for anyone who follows our under 21 team will know that they have been making regular progress to the latter stages of International tournaments, so they cant be that bad can they. So if we can’t point the finger at these then where can we point it. There are 4 large changes that need to be made to the current setup in order to produce long term success.

NUMBER 1 – The FA Board

Why is that we have businessmen running football at the top level, surely more football men should be in the senior position and the businessmen should be left in the finance department. It is no coincidence that in England we have one of the most marketable and profitable leagues in the world. Contrary to popular belief having the most famous league in world doesn’t make it the best in terms of technical football ability. This is highlighted massively when our boys come up against another top footballing nation. If football men were running the game then this centre of excellence in Burton would have been built years ago instead of next to never as far as I can see. I imagine because it probably costs a large amount of money to setup and run and when you have to pay Capello’s salary it’s not so easy. But the long term future of English players need this training away from the pressures of the top flight in order to learn the skills to survive at the highest level, not to mention producing better coaches to ensure the best week in week out standards are met. Without this I can only fear that we will only go backwards when it comes to producing talent.

NUMBER 2 – The Media scrutiny & celebrity culture

Quite frankly this should go without saying but sadly it needs to be said. The media in England are out of control when it comes to squashing player’s spirits and ability to play with the freedom to produce great football. It must be difficult for the modern player to focus solely on their game when they have to watch every step they take away from it. Now I am not advocating the behaviour of every footballer and certain things should not be overlooked. For example Joey Barton or Andy Carroll’s run ins with the law. It’s more the celebrity culture that concerns me in the modern game. The press seems hell bent on rocking the boat and causing disharmony with matters that are not even close to football related. Take this summers world cup for example, we had a settled team and we were playing well and everything looked rosy. Then the media digs some dirt on John Terry and starts a hate campaign to get him sacked as captain and some even calling him to be axed from the squad, and for what doing something that is for nobody’s concern except the people involved. I am not saying John Terry was right to do this but do you think his wife would want all their dirty laundry aired in public. I very much doubt it but the thoughts and feelings of those involved matters little when there are papers to be sold. Surely this all has negative effects on player’s development when they have to consistently tow the line and watch every step the take off the pitch as well as on it. You could argue that being in such a privilege position harbors a responsibility to behave but these guys are human too and I am sure many a journalist has done the dirty on their wives over the years.

NUMBER 3 – The love of money

I feel that the technical education and love for the game has been replaced by the need to squeeze every penny out of it. This is of course only achieved by winning so the pressure to win is too great thus stopping any club from testing new talent in a fear that they will not succeed instantly. This will cost them league placings (and prize money/champions leage etc.) and ultimately managers jobs, all of which costs money to replace. So this prevents a manager from building a long term plan for sustained success. Also big money sponsors will only want their products associated with success so this reaps even more pressure on players and managers. Also it takes form out of the window, particularly at international level. There use to be a time when only players who are fit and in form would play for their country. Now when you have Wayne Rooney plastered on every England advertisement and his name on 1000 shirts in the stadium shop it becomes more difficult to drop him if he is playing badly. It costs a lot to keep replacing the merchandise with a new England hero.

NUMBER 4 - The expectations of the public.

Yes we as fans can share some of blame as much as everyone else involved. To relate back to my last article regarding the boo boys that have become common place in football is not to repeat myself but to reiterate the point. We expect far too much from the team and the pressure is far too great for any player to express their talents. I will use yesterday’s game with France as a prime example. The boo’s rang out in chorus at half time and full time even with debutants on the field which will do their confidence and belief no favors. I sympathize with the players when it comes to England I will admit. We all demand passion and lambaste them for a lack of it, but would you want to pull out all the stops for a group a supporters who cant wait for the chance to have a go at every opportunity. I know that if my boss was to moan at me every time I messed up regardless of my successes I would not work hard for him and the same applies here. So I say that we give them a break once in a while and they will soon buck up because playing for England must be a horrific experience for a player these days, particularly a young player just finding his feet at that level. I say it is as much our responsibility to install the pride back in playing for England as it is the players.

So in summary a fresh start is needed on all sides for it to work. A whole new crop of players need to be brought in and giving a chance to develop together without the scrutiny of the media and public waiting to give them both barrels at every turn. I think all of us as England fans want change but you can’t have transition and success at the same time. That’s why your mother always said you can’t have your cake and eat it too. So we have to accept short term failings for long term success because until we accept this there will be no change. Why would any manager risk untried young talent when they will more than likely lose their jobs before they get chance to see that talent flourish.

Monday, 15 November 2010

The Boo Boys

Good evening and welcome to the first addition of my blog. I will admit that the idea of publishing nothing more than my own views on things is not one that I have entertained before. Then an idea went off in my head and I realized that I spend a large amount of my time moaning about the way world class sport is going in this fast paced, judgmental and glutenous world of ours.

Anyway now my intro is over and you are somehow you are still reading I would like to turn to my first subject to go under the microscope, the Boo Boys of English football. It has not escaped my attention that this is starting to get out of hand in recent months. Yes I have sat and bitched about England and Capello for the last few months like everyone else but I can honestly hand on heart say I have and never would boo my team or country off the field. Now supporting England can be a fractious and often divided experience due to everyone backing their own clubs players and thus blaming everything on the other members of the team, but this has crept into club football and has become common place. I chastise anyone who boo’s a team that they claim to love and would support through thick and thin. Whatever happened to loyalty or even given a bloke a chance? These small fundamental decencies of human behaviour seem to have lost all meaning when Man City dare to draw at home with their nearest and dearest rivals. Forgetting that a few years ago they were playing division 2 football and couldn’t dream of competing with Man Utd on a level playing field. Or of course the Spurs fans who boo’ed off their “beloved” spurs for drawing a home match against Sunderland somehow forgetting that they had beaten Inter Milan not more than 7 days previously. When Redknapp, your much heralded chief took the job they were in a relegation fight and within 3 years turned you into Champions League contenders but that’s not enough to stop them booing. This was compounded by the reaction to Chelsea’s defeat at home to Sunderland, although a minority I admit it will soon spread like wildfire. If a team that is champions and still sat on top of the league are not safe from this treatment then what hope do the rest of them have? Maybe you could argue that this is a “big club” problem and that it’s the “Johnny Come Lately” fans that are the root of this problem. I can only disagree after listening to the fans of Birmingham City booing there team off the pitch after seeing their first home defeat in a year. I can’t see too many people jumping on the Birmingham City bandwagon of late so this issue has clearly spread to all corners of the premier league.

Could this problem have started from the bitterness of the common man looking at these millionaire players living the dream (and abusing the privileges) that we all had as boys playing in the local park. Is it the media sensationalism that hypes us up into a frenzy of expectancy before every weekend? Personally I blame the culture of reality TV which has allowed a generation of people to think its ok to sit on their hands a expect perfection from celebrities on a day in day out basis. Of course forgetting that each player is in fact human and is prone to the odd error despite their large salaries. People watch shows like the X Factor and think that football can apply to the same format where each week you are judged on that week’s performance and that alone regardless of what you have done the weeks before. Analyzing each detail and then discarding them accordingly, and if the highest of standards are not met……..BOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

Of course the success of a football club does not and can not work under this pressure as it takes lots of time and effort (and money!!) to form a group of players and a coaching staff into a winning machine. Do you think that Manchester Utd or Liverpool would have won all those titles if they were boo’ed after every bad performance and fan pressure getting the manager the sack every 6 months? Do you think Man City will dominate Europe if the employ a new manager every time a poor substitution is made? I think we all know the answers really so I implore all you perfectionist supporters out there to back your club through the bad times and then the good times will surely follow. Well maybe not but at least give it until Christmas anyway.