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Archive for June, 2012|Monthly archive page

Wimbledon 2012 – The Fab Four

In Sport on June 25, 2012 at 4:37 PM

After the practically biennial disappointment of a 99% perspiration 1% inspiration England knockout-stage exit, at least Wimbledon has swooped in, all regal with its white polo shirts, strawberries and cream, Arabellas and Quentins and Murray-mania, to try and lift the nation’s spirits (and prevent, god forbid, two days without major sports on tv). And with three of world’s greatest players at the top of their game, and a hungry chasing pack not too far behind, this year looks possibly greater than ever. Here’s a look at the major runners and riders in the men’s draw.

Novak Djokovic – 7/4
‘Nole’ has really come to prominence in the past year and half, starting with his amazing 43-match winning streak which began with his native Serbia’s Davis Cup Finals win in December 2010, encompassed his 2011 Australian Open win, and continued right up to Federer’s spectacular semi-final victory over him in that year’s French. A principal difference is the psychological strength he has gained. He was by no means ever a shrinking violet, but had developed a bit of reputation for not quite having the requisite minerals to win that huge break point against the Federers and Nadals of the world, and had been criticised by some for – admittedly probably sensible – decisions to retire in big games with only minor injuries. But since, he has basically become the iron man of tennis, as evidenced particularly in this year’s Australian Open. Just two days after his incredible 5-hour, 5-set Australian Open semi against Murray – in which, according to many (including yours truly), the Scot played the game of his life and still lost – Djokovic beat Nadal in a game in which both were playing superhuman tennis well into the sixth hour of the longest match ever in the Aussie Open (also the longest final in Open-era history). It would be a brave man who bets against him this time.

Rafael Nadal – 2/1
Fresh from clinching his 7th slam on the clay of Roland Garros – an imperious record, at just 26, to match Sampras’ infamous Wimbledon record – Nadal will be looking to avenge damaging defeats to Djokovic in this year’s Aussie Open and last year’s Wimbledon, in what is fast replacing his and Federer’s to become a classic tennis rivalry (and allegedly one with a little edge to it in the dressing room). Due to a combination of a more attacking game and slightly slower Wimbledon grass (some say, on a hot day, there is very little difference in the way Roland Garros and Wimbledon’s surfaces play now), Nadal has well and truly shaken off the tag of ‘just another Spaniard who can’t play on grass’, having won two of the last four Wimbledon titles. Remarkably, given the pounding his body takes due to his ultra-physical game, he still seems in peak condition. So, when coupled with his indomitable mentality, it’s safe to say that, though Djokovic is slight favourite, Rafa won’t go down without a massive fight.

Roger Federer – 7/2
In this humble viewer’s opinion the greatest player to have played the game, Roger Federer will be looking to match Sampras’ record of the most Wimbledon titles (7) this summer. With the out-of-this-world tennis being played by Djokovic and Nadal, the dream is fading a little, having not won a grand slam since 2010’s Australian Open. He is, though, still in good physical shape – his graceful, effortless movement and smooth hitting, in contrast to big-stomping Nadal and stretch-armstrong Djokovic, have evidently not taken a great deal of physical toll. And he is still capable of rolling back the years, as he did in last year’s four-set victory against Djokovic in the French semi final. However, he has lost the aura of invincibility of being able to regularly do this three times in five days. Expect a few of these great performances, perhaps against Almagro (12) and Berdych (6), but a four-set semi-final exit to Djokovic.

Andy Murray 13/2
Andy Murray’s career to date has, unfortunately for fans such as myself, seemed comparable to the travails of a teenage lad gallantly attempting to lose his v-plates. He puts in all the groundwork and does most of the right things to get second and third base much of the time – but, in his quest to go the distance, is hampered a little bit by lack of reserve but mostly by unfortunate circumstance, typically that of slightly more attractive kids with a cooler cars swooping in to steal the prize that seemed rightfully his. (In grand slams in the past one-and-a-half seasons, he has been in one final, four semis and a quarter-final.) To this end, he recruited former world no. 1 Ivan Lendl as his coach just before this year’s Aussie Open, who has worked on making Murray more attacking, ruthless and as superhumanly fit as Djokovic and Nadal. The early signs from performances and the camp are that it is working. He has added to his typical counter-punching game by significantly improving his ability to hit lines and attack the net. And though he has only reached a semi and a quarter this year, he was only prevented from going further in Melbourne by an imperious Djokovic performance and the French never was his best surface, let alone with a (supposed) injury like this year. That said, whenever Murray ups his game, Nadal, Djokovic and, formerly at least, Federer always seem to up their game to even more extraordinary levels. So, alas, it will probably be another debilitating, if tight, defeat to Nadal in the semis.

Joel Durston

Why Hodgson Was Right About Ferdinand

In Sport on June 15, 2012 at 4:30 PM

With Martin Kelly’s promotion to the England squad,  prompted by a recent Gary Cahill injury brought on by a c***ish push by Mertens, the press have been putting the sword into Hodgson for his declaration that it was for “football reasons” he chose the Liverpool full-back above Ferdinand, who many think should be a first-choice anyway. For those of you, football fan or not, living under a rock for the past year, the surrounding controversy originates from John Terry allegedly racially assaulting Rio’s brother, Anton, in a Premiership match in October,  for which Terry is due in court shortly after the European Championships following a suspension of the trial.

It is fairly clear that this decision was not made for what most would hold to be ”football reasons”. For, while he is a little past his best in ability and physical condition, Ferdinand still had a good season for United. With 30 league appearances, he was central in both respects to a United defence that was second only to City in its parsimony (and they’ve got Joe bloody Hart between the sticks) – their mere 33 goals conceded a good seven better than the next best defences, Liverpool and Everton. This in addition to an impressive England career, comprising 81 caps. Martin Kelly on the other hand has a mere five minutes of international experience (in the Norway friendly), and just a dozen solid if unspectacular Premiership appearances for a mediocre Liverpool team this season.

So it’s understandable why the “football reasons” excuse is being so lambasted by the press and public. But football is not played in isolation by automatons, and it is a team game. So there is no concrete difference between “football reasons” and supposedly non-football reasons.

Seems obvious but some could do well to remember that football is a team game; not one won by individuals. That’s why Messi, and all the other stars, haven’t taken Argentina to much greater triumphs recently; why Holland and Spain, until recently at least, have had relatively average records in major championships; and why Real’s Galacticos failed to really gel for much of the time until the ‘Special One’ came in to instil a team ethic and winning mentality. And, on the other hand, team spirit is a large reason why Greece won Euro 2004 despite deep mediocrity; why Germany have such a strong record; and, more recently, why Chelsea won the Champions League despite (or because of) setting up trench lines approximately 30 metres from goal from the Quarter-final onwards.

The typical counter-argument to the idea Terry and Ferdinand should be separated for team benefit runs that everybody has to work with people they don’t like, so the pair – and all others – should just get on with it. While the analogy is somewhat fair, people rarely have to work with people they suspect to be racist to them. A fairly toxic relationship, I think you’ll agree. If so, it follows that Hodgson was correct in not bringing both players. Also, normal office workers (such as myself) do not have to live with their colleagues for several weeks with the prying, expectant eyes of a nation scrutinising their every move, and obviously putting strain on the camp. The two centre-halves, in particular, need to be on at least ok terms, as this is a partnership that requires constant communication, often frenzied to the point of ‘bossing about’ and lambasting for that missed challenge which led to the goal.

Another argument is that John Terry should stand down at least temporarily on principle, as would, so the argument runs, any ‘normal’ worker be suspended pending allegations of unprofessionalism. But if Terry doesn’t think he’s done wrong (as he presumably doesn’t), then why should he volunteer himself out of one of the biggest tournaments of his career? There’s certainly some weight to the idea the trial should not have been suspended until after the Euros (and I’d be inclined to agree), but regardless, this is not Hodgson’s fault nor his responsibility. He’s just been parachuted into this difficult situation and wisely decided Terry and Ferdinand couldn’t both go. Surely, Terry’s entitled to the same rights as any other British citizen – that of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ – so why shouldn’t he be in contention for the spot? Whatever you think of Hodgson, at the end of the day (to use an appropriate cliché), he is the manager, and one of many years experience; not any of us mere mortals. And nor is he a moral/legal arbitrator. Remember, he’s dealing with people who kick some glorified pigs bladder around for living, hoping to shepherd it into an outside cupboard, for Pete’s sake…

At first, the decision to not take Ferdinand was even just about passable as one of individual footballing merit. Having won the league, Lescott was a starter for most people; Cahill another fairly strong choice; Terry over the hill but still potentially world class; and Jones inexperienced but talented and versatile. (I would have slightly preferred Ferdinand to Terry, but only slightly, and Terry’s performance on Monday went some way to justifying his inclusion.) It was only when Cahill got injured and Kelly was brought in that the issue really blew up. And who could really foresee a player in a friendly being a twat and cynically pushing a defender into a keeper, breaking his jaw (and Barry’s injury that meant Jagielka’s inclusion)? And could Hodgson reasonably predict Micah Richards being a sanctimonious fool and refusing to go on the reserve list? I don’t think so.

Of course, you could press the point that Hodgson should have been plainly honest in the first place. But, remember, it wasn’t initially such an issue (hindsight is a wonderful thing). And the voracious reaction of the press to the current situation, and past tradition, doesn’t exactly suggest they (/we) would have been considered in wading through the easy, superficial lines of attack to the perfectly reasonable justification beneath. Put bluntly, it was a white lie, just one that unfortunately got found out. But unless you’ve never told a little, ostensibly harmless untruth such as ‘no, you don’t look fat in that, love’ or ‘no, I am not at the pub’, I don’t think you can take the moral high-ground here.

So, blame everyone, no-one, Mertens, but don’t blame Hodgson for anything more than picking a slightly worse player. Nor blame Terry…or not yet, anyway…

Joel Durston

A U-turn to End All U-turns?

In Satire on June 3, 2012 at 4:31 PM

With the news of the government’s most recent U-turn, regarding plans to set a maximum cap on philanthropic donations, David Cameron has sensationally announced a U-turn on U-turns, TAY can reveal.

The news follows several about-turns this week – on pasties, static caravans, secret trials evidence, and buzzard killing.  Mr Cameron said: “In tough times, like this, we need strong governance, and after careful consideration we have decided to deliver what we actually propose to…pinky promise.

“The thing is, it’s hard to rule a country when some of those in power are Draco Malfoys and some of them are Neville Longbottoms.

“For instance, just law week, we went on a team bonding exercise to see that clever fellow Ali G’s new motion picture, The Dictator, I believe it’s called.

“All the Lib Dems thought it was a shocking, dangerous piece of cinema which needed to be censored immediately; and all the Tories found it spot on and bloody hilarious, some backbenchers even thinking Admiral General Aladeen was a bit soft.”

The Prime Minister went on to speak of all the consequent troubles of deciding Coalition policy – citing House of Lords reform as a bone he threw Clegg to chew – and other tough decisions in Parliament such as what is a reasonable proportion of tea rounds for Nick to do.

He admitted that this discord had led to some policy proposals being decided by rock-paper-scissors (“proportionally weighted – we may often be considered bastards, us Conservatives, but to our grave we are fair bastards”).

And, in a potentially damning revelation for the government, he admitted the pasty tax was such a parliamentary hot potato that it was decided by a magic 8-ball.

“We were just at a complete and utter impasse,” he said. “It seemed the fairest way to leave it up to the political gods.”
“The first time it said ‘focus and ask again; and the second, ‘as I see it, yes’. If that’s not a ringing endorsement, then, I’m not quite sure what is!”

Tory Party members are quick to remind people that after proposals they carefully listened to the press and public and changed their mind in line with the consensus, but opposition leaders are claiming that this should not have needed to happen in the first place.

Labour leader, Ed Milliband, said: “These U-turns have once again shown David Cameron to be indecisive, misguided and, well, quite frankly, a wet blanket. This country, in times of harsh recession brought about by the nasty Tories and sycophantic Lib Dems, needs the strong, decisive leadership that a Labour government would present.”

However, when pressed on what his policy would be on the matters at hand, he merely proceeded to offer the same statement in about 17 different grammatical forms.

Meanwhile, newspapers editors were gleefully rubbing their hands at how much they could influence government.

The Sun’s Editor said: “It’s great; it’s like playing with little figures on a political version of Risk.

“Just chuck in a letter or two from Barry in Scunthorpe and Nora from Derby, ranting about how ‘rich’ Tories, who have ‘probably never ate a pasty in their life’, don’t understand the plight of the working man or woman, and they’re putty in your hands; slaves to your agenda.”

Adding, as he patted a little framed picture of David Cameron, “isn’t that right, Dave?!”

Joel Durston