Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Reviewing The List

Fighting Talk had never been the kind of programme where new items of news had been broken to me, but having been away in Birmingham last week, I had missed a lot of news. I didn’t know that Craig Brewster had been bagged as Inverness boss until I got home. Similarly on Saturday morning, I was listening to Fighting Talk when I found out that there was to be a review to sports Crown Jewels, the reserved list of sports events to be only televised on council telly.

I am in favour of the list, I feel that it promotes sports which normally wouldn’t receive much exposure, even if 4 of the events are footballing ones (the World Cup, European Championships and the FA and Scottish Cup finals). I wasn’t aware that Test Cricket was taken off the list 10 years ago, which explains why it has disappeared off our screens, and I was unaware that the 6 Nations is not on the list either. That this tournament has remained on our screens say’s more about the organising committee, who rejected the advances of BSkyB’s millions 10 years ago, and their ethos of promoting their sport to the masses. The same goes for The Open Championship, which again I was surprised is not on the list.

Being away, I am not aware of whether this sparked a debate about Scotland games. The televising of the Scottish (footballing) national side became something of a political cause celebre last year, when Setanta acquired the rights to Scotland’s away World Cup qualifiers, which meant that none of Scotland’s World Cup qualifiers would be shown live, and when the BBC acquired the rights to Formula 1, which had Scottish football fans wondering where the money for this had come from as the Beeb had pleaded poverty earlier.

This review will cover 3 area’s. It will look at the principle of having a list, it will look at its content and the criteria determining which events may be listed. I feel that a list is vital to preserve those moments where we remembered where we were when great sporting events happened for future generations. Events which gave us joy, and crucially inspired the next generation of British sportsmen and women.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Sporting Pick's of 2008: Part 5 - December 21st – South Africa (281 & 414/4) beat Australia (375 & 319) by 6 wickets

South Africa completed the second-highest successful run chase in Test history as they made 414-4 to beat Australia in the first Test in Perth.

The tourists began the final day on 227-3, with Jacques Kallis (57) and AB de Villiers at the crease. Mitchell Johnson removed Kallis - his 11th wicket of the match - at 303-4. But de Villiers made a sparkling 106 not out, adding 111 for the fifth wicket with debutant JP Duminy (50 not out) as the Proteas cruised home.
The all-time record Test run chase was West Indies' 418-7 against Australia in Antigua in 2003.

& December 30th – South Africa (459 & 183/1) beat Australia (394 & 247) by 9 wickets.
South Africa won a first Test series in Australia with a nine-wicket triumph at the MCG, becoming the first team in 16 years to beat the Aussies on home soil. Resuming on 30-0 in search of 183, they needed 42 more overs, Graeme Smith firing 10 fours in a commanding 75.
Neil McKenzie made an unbeaten 59 and Hashim Amla (30) hit the winning runs.
South Africa can inflict a first home whitewash on Australia and move top of the world rankings by winning the final Test in Sydney, starting on Saturday (3rd January).

Far be it for this to turn into some sort of obituary for the great Australia Test cricket team (one Australian newspaper has already mocked up a thomestone for Australian cricket already, see below), but South Africa’s series win in Australia has been the sporting result of the year. Yet when the Saffer’s pitched up at Lords for the start of their test series in England, they looked out of sorts. England racked up 500+ and enforced the follow-on. South Africa then ground out a draw, and then won at Headingley and Edgbaston to take the series. However their achievement in winning in Australia is on another level entirely. The last side to do that was the West Indies side of 1992/3 who scraped a win 2 and a half years before being dethroned as test cricket’s finest by Australia themselves.

For Australia however, this represents the end of an era. The aura of invincibility has gone. While there are mitigating circumstances, the loss of Jaques, Watson, Lee, Symonds and Stuart Clarke through injury have been crucial. What this has shown is that the conveyor belt of talent which Australia had in the 1990’s is somewhat dry at the moment. Australia have had almost 3 years to try and fix the problems with their middle order, when Martyn, Michael Clarke and Katich were blown away by England’s mastery of reverse swing in 2005. The Australian middle order was always the core of the Australian batting line up, with the Waugh twins, Border and even Ricky Ponting (before his ‘promotion’ to No#3 at the start of the 2001 Ashes) being its key performers. What has proved irreplaceable though has been the utter genius of Shane Warne, both with the ball and his ability to read a game.

Overall, Australia’s inability to fill the shoes of Warne & McGrath has been their downfall. In the first test Australia had dominated for 3 days, manoeuvring themselves into setting the Saffers an imposing target of 414 to win, with 5 full sessions to spare. While South Africa deserve the plaudits for winning with 6 wickets to spare, it must have come as a blow to Australia to find themselves unable to successfully defend 414 runs. Its not that the Australians had any warning, South Africa’s win at Edgebaston was the highest successful run chase on that ground (278). Smith, unlike that day in Edgebaston, only set down foundations with his fourth day 108, with De Villiers 106 not out closing out the game.

For the Second Test, Australia only dominated for a day and a half, collapsing once Ponting made his century on day 1, and building key lower order partnerships through part of day 2, before reducing South Africa to 198/7 by the end of day 2. Day 3 brought the unlikely partnership which put Australia behind the 8 ball. Australia’s inability to knock over South Africa’s number 9, Dale Steyn, saw them concede 180 runs for the 9th wicket. When Australia were skittled out for 247 about half an hour before the close of day four, the Australians must have realised the game was up, even if the target was a defendable 183.

While this signifies the end of an era, with the return rubber due next month. This doesn’t necessary follow that South Africa are the king’s of Test Cricket, Australia are still clinging on, while India have a good argument for that accolade. This era of the 5 day game will be a more uncertain one.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Sporting Pick's of 2008: Part 4 - August 20th – Bolt wins 200m in record time

"Jamaica's Usain Bolt added the 200m crown to his Olympic 100m title in an incredible new world record time of 19.30 seconds in Beijing.

The 21-year-old, who won the 100m title in a world record of 9.69 secs, powered past the field to cross the line and smash Michael Johnson's mark of 19.32. American defending champion Shawn Crawford took silver with team-mate Walter Dix getting the bronze.

Great Britain's Christian Malcolm clocked 20.40 secs for fifth place. Bolt seized both with ease, becoming the first man to secure the prestigious Olympic sprint double since Carl Lewis in 1984. The 6ft 5in sprinter is also the first since compatriot Don Quarrie in 1976 to hold both sprint world records at the same time. "

Golden boots wins Olympic gold in spectacular but totally laidback fashion. The casual way he ‘meandered’ over the finish line was just bizarre, with potential further shavings off an already great time available, had he been bothered! Instead, he just calmly got to the finish line and saluted his fans with nonchalant modesty.

This race is here, rather than the 100m, really because the 200 is a more difficult race to perfect, with it being the shortest race with a bend and strict lane regulations to be kept to. It was these lane rules which disqualified several of the finalists. That and at the moment, the world record for the 100 metres seems to fall every year. Bolt not only won, but took 2/100th of a second off Michael Johnson’s world record, which itself was one of the highlights of the Atlanta Olympics. This would have pleased Bolt greatly as this was his event, rather than the 100m.

To cap it all, Bolt helped his countrymen to 4x100m relay gold as well. One of THE faces of the Beijing Olympics.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Love Will...

One of the things that I missed out on growing up was being taken to football by family. Admittedly I didn’t get into football until 1986. However there defiantly was a pang of regret at the weekend, when the mighty St Mirren played their last League game at St Mirren Park, or to give it the unofficial name, Love Street.

I must admit that I am a St Mirren fan, but I don’t feel like a St Mirren MAN. There were plenty of those at the game at the weekend. On the plus side, I think that I can have a sense of objectivity about our games, and not get teary eyed at the thought of leaving our stadium of 114 years. On the minus side, I don’t have a long and exhaustive list of I was there’s. I missed the glory years when we were challenging for the Scottish Championship, I missed us winning the Scottish Cup and I missed our European nights. However I did miss Sellik’s now legendary 5-0 win (which helped them win the Championship in 1986, Hearts 2-0 collapse at Dundee was a bigger factor that day), the turgid years in the first division and the most famous of European nights at Love Street, referred to on Blackandwhitearmy as H-Bomb.

That’s not to say that I missed out on everything since I started going regularly in 2001, I did see our 4-4 draw with Falkirk, coming back from 3-0 down at half time, I did see our 4-0 losses to the likes of Inverness Caley and Clyde. I was there when we won the Scottish League Championship, drawing with Dundee when the news came through of St Johnstone’s loss at Queen Of the South. I was there when Eddie Smith thought a Nakamura fall was worthy of a free kick, and when we beat Rangers at Love Street for the first time since April 1986. And I was there on Saturday.

I have only seen Love Street full on two other occasions before this, the game against Dundee that saw us win the Scottish League Championship, and the relegation 6 pointer against Dunfermline which we lost, but still stayed up. On Saturday, the queue for the North Bank stretched round into Shortroods, as Paisley came and paid it’s last respects to the old ground. The game itself unfortunately was not a classic. In the first half, the Bud’s had the best of the game, but were too inhibited by nervousness to fully capitalise. Motherwell were much better in the second half, but are still a shadow of the team which finished third last term.

At the end of the game, there was a parade of the St Mirren Legend’s from the Caledonia Street end to… well the centre circle, where Gordon McQueen rubbed shoulders with Barry Lavety and Billy Abercromby, our cup winning captain from 1987. This started a rousing rendition of “Aber’s Gonna Get Ye” from under the television gantry. Then came the release of Black and White balloons (as opposed to some of the balloons we’ve seen over the years on the pitch) as the strains of “Auld Lang Sine” came from the PA. Then came a bit of a fireworks display, a final send off to the place. And that, as they say, was that.

Next for the Bud’s is a Scottish Cup tie away to Brechin which was due to be played on Saturday but will go ahead this week weather permiting, and a couple of away games to Hibernian and Dundee United. Then we play our first match at the new home at Greenhill Road. Hmmm… may take a bit of time attaining some sort of a ring that one.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Sporting Pick's of 2008: Part 3 - August 11th – Addlington Wins Swimming Gold for Britain.

"Britain's Rebecca Adlington took a historic gold in the women's 400m freestyle, while her team-mate Jo Jackson claimed the bronze medal.

Adlington timed her late surge to perfection as she became Britain's first female Olympic swimming champion in 48 years. The 19-year-old from Mansfield pipped Katie Hoff of the United States by just seven 100ths of a second. Jackson also staged a late rally to edge Coralie Balmy into fourth place

Much has been said about this in my blog about the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year already, but this has been picked for three reasons.

Firstly, this if memory serves, was either the first Gold picked up by the British team, or one of the first, which set the British team on its way. Certainly this wasn’t one of the expected gold medal chances that the teams coaches talked of. Secondly, there’s the historical context. This was the first Olympic gold picked up by a British female swimmer since Anita Longsborugh picked up gold in 1960.

Oh and thirdly, this particular final was an absolute cracker, with Addlington winning in 3/100th of a second. The silver medallist, America’s Katie Hoff, was heavily trailed as a multi-medalist, she ended up winning no Gold’s.

A mention should also be made to Jo Jackson, who snuck in and nabbed herself a Bronze medal to make this race Britain’s most successful woman’s swim ever.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Sporting Pick's of 2008: Part 2, May 21st – European Cup Final : Chelsea 1 Manchester United 1 (Manchester United win 6-5 on penalties)

Manchester United won the Champions League by beating Chelsea 6-5 on penalties after a dramatic 1-1 draw.
Cristiano Ronaldo headed United in front after 26 minutes but Frank Lampard equalised before the interval. Lampard and Didier Drogba hit the woodwork before the striker saw red in extra time for slapping Nemanja Vidic.
Ronaldo missed his penalty, but John Terry hit the post with a kick that would have won it for Chelsea and Edwin van der Sar saved from Nicolas Anelka. It sparked wild celebrations for Sir Alex Ferguson and his players in the Moscow rain as United won Europe's elite trophy for the third time, a triumph made more poignant as it came 50 years on from the Munich air crash

In a season which ended with an international tournament, it is a sign of the times perhaps that this years European Championships doesn’t merit one of my picks. Truth be told, Euro 2008 was a dull tournament, which marked the continued homogenisation of International Football. The majority of sides played a variation of 4-5-1, with the 2 finalists playing it for differing reasons. Spain came to 4-5-1 due to the enforced absence of David Villa as the tournament went on. Even Germany, who only under Rudi Voller 6 years ago turned to the dark side of 4-4-2, tried it for one of their pool matches, and found the form which took them almost all the way.

In sharp contrast, this years European Cup Final is here simply because it represents the High point of the English Premiership in its 16 year history. Whether that is a good thing or not, hmmm I think I know how you feel. Now, don’t get me wrong, this is not petty jealousy. However despite all the guff generated in the name of the so called “Golden Generation”, England has gone (for some) alarmingly backwards in the lifetime of the Premiership. This correlation can be made with the drop in English players playing in the Premiership. This is particularly galling when you consider that the reason for the original blueprint which led to the formation of the Premier League, under the umberella of the FA, was the advancement of the English national team. At least Lex, Roger and the other leaders who initially set up the SPL were being semi honest when they said that they were looking for more of the TV revenue pie to go to their club’s.

However, for two English sides, there were remarkably few English players. Chelsea have been the embodiment of buying finished article foreign players since Hoddle brought in Gullit, Vialli and Di Mateo in the mid 1990’s. While you can’t really argue with those purchases, the continuation of this policy has undoubtedly undermined any youth policy which Chelsea has. Their captain, John Terry, being the only player to have come through the ranks properly in 16 years. Bizarrely, while Manchester United have a reputation for bringing through the ranks young British talent, only Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Wes Brown, Darren Fletcher and John O’Shea represented that tradition (Gary Neville would have certainly played had he been fit). Though Rooney, Ronaldo, Nani & Anderson were brought in, while still very young, having been promising youngsters elsewhere.

The match itself was an OK match, to describe it as an advert for the English Premiership, as some commentators and callers to BBC 5live’s 606 programme did, would be stretching it… a lot. Manchester United should have been home and hosed before Chelsea equalised before Half Time. Chelsea then dominated the remainder of the game, and Extra Time, without threatening to take the game away from United. Drogba’s sending off was a turning point, and not just for the inevitable penalty kick competition. Drogba surely would have taken one of the first 5 penalties, and as the competition transpired, could have taken the decisive kick. Instead, it fell to Terry’s slip (above) to decide the contest.

As has been said before, this game was picked, not because it was a great game, but because it (and not the England national team winning an international tournament) is the pinnacle of the achievements of the Premiership. How sad is that.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Sporting Picks of 2008 Part 1, 14th May UEFA Cup Final: Zenit St Petersburg 2 Rangers 0

Zenit St Petersburg deservedly lifted the Uefa Cup with a two-goal victory over Rangers in Manchester.
The Russians dominated the first half without seriously threatening a packed Rangers defence. Rangers' Jean-Claude Darcheville forced a good save and a Barry Ferguson snap shot struck the outside of a post.
But Igor Denisov played a one-two with Andrei Arshavin before firing home and Konstatin Zyryanov side-footed in to secure Zenit's first European trophy.
It meant Rangers' dream of repeating their 1972 Cup-Winners' Cup success died at the hands of Zenit coach Dick Advocaat - the man dubbed the Little General during his time in charge at Ibrox.
And the Scottish side's hopes of winning four trophies by the end of the season had faltered at the second hurdle

Season 2007/08 was a strange and memorable season for Rangers. At one point in May, they were on course for an unprecedented 4 trophies in one season, unseen in Scottish football since Celtic’s all conquering 1966/67 side which peaked on a very famous night in Lisbon. In the end, despiter only ending up winning the domestic cup double, this still ended up as a historic season, all because they reached their (Rangers) 4th European final, their first since 1972.

That they didn’t land the Scottish Championship was down to a combination of factors. The tragic death of Motherwell captain Phil O’Donnell understandably resulted in several matches to be called off as a mark of respect, Rangers own inability to eliminate teams at the first time of asking in the Scottish Cup and their run to the UEFA Cup final. These all contributed to a fixture pile up which exhausted Rangers, and still hinders Rangers this season, costing them vital points in the Championship run in.

In the UEFA Cup, Rangers run was as drama filled as their Old Firm rival’s own UEFA Cup run was 5 years ago. An away goal saw them past Panathanaikos, before an easier than expected win at home to one of the tournament favourites, Werder Bremen, saw them through despite having to hang on in Germany. The Quarter Final against Sporting Lisbon was settled with 2 top class finishes in the 2nd leg at the Jose Arvelade Stadium, while the Semi-final was a ‘nerve shredder’ against Fiorentina. This tie went all the way to penalties, which I saw in of all places an Irish bar in Praia da Rocha! And which Rangers won, despite Cousin’s sending off. To the universal surprise of everyone, Rangers final opponents were not Tournament Favourites Bayern Munich, but the Russians Zenit St Petersburg, managed by former Rangers manager Dick Advocaat.

The final itself was something of an anti-climax for Rangers. Prehaps it was the nerves, or the first signs of a very heavy season catching up with them (this was their 63rd match of the season, they would play 4 more in the next 10 days). Whatever it was, Rangers were beaten by a fresher side (Zenit’s season started in March) that only broke through by dint of a tired defensive lapse, the first in Europe that season, which provided the space for Arshavin’s perfect through ball to Denisov.

The loss proved to be a double edged sword for Rangers, they got much kudos for reaching a European final, but lost it with the actions of their supporters. The loss backfired dramatically on Rangers domestically too, drawing at Motherwell 3 days after the final before losing 2-0 at Pittodrie on the last day of the season (with a 3-0 win at Love Street sandwiched in between). Their Scottish Cup victory wasn’t as straightforward either, 2-0 up at half time, pegged back to 2-2 after 10 minutes of the second half from 2 set pieces, before Rangers pulled ahead with 20 minutes to go. Despite the minuses, the fact that Rangers reached a European final must be seen as a historic event.