Trying Your Luck

I suppose it has been a while since my last blog post. It’s not that I don’t enjoy writing this blog, more that nothing of any note has occurred in my life over recent weeks. The last few days have been eventful however so I have no excuses on this occasion.

The World Cup looms and my excitement grows exponentially by the day. Over the years my schoolmates and I have taken part in a sweepstake to add a little bit more spice to the major championships when England inevitably get knocked out. A video was produced for our Euro 2012 sweepstake but unfortunately I wasn’t available to add my insightful punditry to proceedings. On that occasion I was landed with England.

On the face of it: not a bad draw. As it panned out however, receiving a sweepstake team that you would have supported regardless means an inescapable win-win/lose-lose situation. England eventually went out on penalties to Italy but Pirlo’s poetic puppetry of the match were proof of just how lacking England were. Two years prior to this I was landed with Serbia. Again, they appeared an exciting prospect. An extremely disappointing campaign materialised and they finished last in their group, even Australia leaving the Serbs in the dust.

My sweepstake career was becoming defined by mediocrity. Surely the sweepstake for the 2014 World Cup would provide a reason to be cheerful. I was due a bit of luck.

Thursday 22 May, 2014 was an exciting day. I would be making my Youtube debut as a pundit for our sweepstake before heading off to London to watch the final of the Premier League of Darts at the O2 Arena with a select few of my fellow sweepstakers.

It did not start well. We were forced to film the sweepstake draw in the garden due to unforeseen circumstances (the host’s sister was revising for a university exam in our would-be studio). University exams trump sweepstake videos apparently so we were forced to carry out the draw in a blustery garden which was not an ideal setting for 64 small pieces of wafty paper. Our determination to get the draw done saw us through and I was relatively happy with the results. I am of course talking solely from a production value perspective. I was drawn Algeria: a team I had forgotten were even making the trip to Rio de Janeiro in June.

This is what the sweepstake is all about… backing a losing horse. Whoever received Greece in 2004 would have felt a similar feeling to the one I felt when Algeria was plucked from the hat. The Greek team and the Denmark team that won the 2004 and 1992 European Championships respectively give hope to all those sweepstaking no-hopers out there. Despite Serbia letting me down in 2010 I still look out for their results. A life-long affiliation with an otherwise obscure team can result from a seemingly disappointing sweepstake. An on-the-face-of-it disapointing sweepstake draw must be embraced.

Soon after the draw concluded we had to hotfoot it to the coach station on the road to the one-time Millennium Dome, now O2 Arena. A few pints at a Wetherspoons on arrival meant we were ready for the occasion. We have spectated the darts twice before but both were in Exeter. The O2 Arena is a ridiculous yet brilliant choice for a darts venue. We were [quite literally] on Row Z and could barely make out the stage let alone the darts board. Nevertheless, we soaked up the boozy atmosphere and saw the tungsten fly: albeit on the large screens dotted around this Warehouse of Dreams.

The first semi-final saw Michael Van Gerwen getting the better of Gary Anderson. This was followed by Raymond Van Barneveld overcoming an out-of-sorts Phil Taylor. An all-Dutch final between Van Gerwen and Van Barneveld was a magnificent prospect but in the end it was bread and butter for Barney who 10-6 which saw him crowned Premier League champion for 2014.

Louie, one of the original line-up of the darts tour, couldn’t make it on the day as a result of being in China. As he was on a night-bus to go hiking around a mountain in the Far East we were in a large room with thousands of other pissed-up people in South East London. I don’t think the two situations could be any further removed from one other. Louie had said however, prior to pulling out, that we could stay at his house after the event. He remained true to his word despite not being there. The plan was for a key to be left under the doormat. A flawless plan I hear you say. For whatever reason this didn’t pan out so we had to wake up Louie’s understandably ratty housemates in the early hours of Friday morning.

We had unquestionably peaked at the darts and now things were beginning to fall apart. We had managed to piss off Louie’s housemates and as we were leaving the next morning we did something else which defies belief. Louie’s housemates had already left to do normal-people things i.e. go to work. Somehow we had managed to close the porch door but had left the front door wide open for the whole world to see inside. We couldn’t leave the house in this state. Some of us were quite happy to leave, cut our losses and accept there was nothing we could do. The problem-solvers among us, despite our temporarily ropey dispositions, were determined to rescue the situation and that we did. By some miracle there was a building site directly opposite the house so we had an array of tools to choose from. We tried various planks of wood and eventually settled on a thin plank with a small nail on the end so that we could get some purchase on the handle of the front door through the letterbox of the front door.

As you can imagine I was feeling a little worse for wear. I had though promised a friend I would attend his birthday party the following night in Brighton. I ploughed through the hangover and eventually found myself on the South Coast. Three nights on the trot of getting plastered followed and I’m still here to tell the tale… just about.

In other news I have recently written for a ‘Top 100 Travel Blogs’ rundown for the ChilliSauce website which I will attach when it is published. This weekend I have also been handed an interview for the BBC Kick Off Sports Reporter scheme in Bristol over the summer. The interview is in a couple of weeks: it would be the perfect preparation for my work experience at FourFourTwo in August and ultimately my Masters in Sports Journalism beginning in September. With the World Cup just around the corner I have a fantastic few months in store which means, in theory, I should have some things to talk about on this blog. Watch this space.

Neutrality

It’s about time I wrote a blog post. I couldn’t help but be inspired by the fantastic sport on show this weekend. At the top of the bill however was the potential title-decider as Manchester City travelled to Liverpool on Sunday. 25 years have passed since the Hillsborough disaster and as Steven Gerrard led his team out to the roars of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone” you could be forgiven for believing in fate. After all, Gerrard’s cousin Jon-Paul Gilhooley was the youngest of the 96 to be lost on that dreadful day.

The first goal in this weekend’s all-important match came from Raheem Sterling who wasn’t even a twinkle in his father’s eye a quarter of a century ago when the disaster unfolded. Neither was I. It didn’t stop me getting swept up in the emotion of the occasion yesterday. Neck hairs were vertical. I may be a neutral fan but occasions such as this strike a chord. Gerrard’s passion at the final whistle was an outpouring of his inner soul. I just hope we see more of the same in Brazil in 3 months’ time.

Image

Gerrard’s post-match speech upstaged by Sakho’s rubbish labyrinth-like hairstyle.

Liverpool let a two goal lead slip and it looked as if the Manchester City machine would roll the home-side over. However, A rare Vincent Kompany error opened a small window of opportunity for Philippe Coutinho who was phenomenal on the day. He angled a beautiful finessed shot beyond Joe Hart and the roof would have blown off Anfield if it had one. Liverpool held on and in doing so made a huge step in the direction of the Premier League trophy: they have one pinky fingernail on silver-plated immortality.

In stark contrast to Manchester City, this Liverpool team has a strong English core. As club-neutral this is something I wholeheartedly respect: Glen Johnson, Jon Flanagan, Jordan Henderson, Steven Gerrard, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge have all been monumental in the race for the title this season. Jon Flanagan, a born-and-bred Scouser, has given the Liverpool defence some steel. He is not scared to leave his mark on the opposition and shows a no-nonsense-never-say-die attitude that certain Arsenal should take notice of. I’m not sure how kindly the continental referees will take to Flanagan next year in the Champions League however…

I hope Liverpool go on to win the league. Fully aware of their defensive frailties, they have been the most entertaining team to watch this season: their ‘you may score but we’ll score more’ attitude has been a joy to watch. With Brendan Rodgers at the helm the club is going in the right direction. After suffering a setback in his early footballing career and being forced into retirement, Rodgers took on the role of youth coach at Reading and regularly visited Spain to research coaching methods. This has reaped rewards and may reap awards come the end of the season. It will be interesting to see them in the Champions League when the 2014/15 comes round. English teams have resorted to defensive tactics in Europe too much for my liking in recent years. It would be refreshing to see Liverpool buck this trend.

Roy Hodgson must also take note. These attacking talents must not be restrained come the summer. What a shame that Jay Rodriguez won’t be travelling. Southampton and Liverpool share a similar ethos with regards to footballing style. Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Luke Shaw should all make the plane and represent their teammate who must unfortunately watch from home. The cripplingly cautious Hodgson must let them play their natural game and they will surely flourish. With a potent Raheem Sterling at the tip of the diamond formation, England would be a fantastic team to watch.

I would opt for this formation:

england

The World Cup is just around the corner and I cannot contain my excitement. This weekend Mum bought me the official Panini World Cup 2014 sticker album. I love football sticker albums. Completing the 2003 Premier League album book is one of my proudest achievements to date. I recently scanned the entire album with the intention of doing a blog post on the stories behind the players and behind my completing it but I haven’t quite figured out how to get it up on my blog yet. So if any of the 3 people reading this blog hold the answer, please get in touch….

In other news, Bubba Watson won his second green jacket in three years. Despite golf not being my favourite sport to watch I can respect that he is a maverick sportsman with enormous talent. I would also like to mention that fellow Old Bristolian and now professional cricketer Will Tavaré, nephew of Chris Tavaré, racked up a century on his first-class debut for Gloucestershire against Hampshire in their Division Two tie yesterday. I hope that he goes on to achieve further success in his cricketing career.

 

Aside

Operation

On Friday I had anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction. It was long overdue. I haven’t played sport for almost two years now and have missed it dearly, especially having a kickabout with my mates: it’s the social element apart from anything else. I have been told I will be playing sport again in 9 months. My aim is to play football on Christmas Day which, by my dubious calculations, is roughly when I am due back. Like the Christmas truce of 1914 I will emerge from the trenches to play the beautiful game once more. My touch, after a two year absence, is going to be atrocious… not that it was anything to write home about in the first place.

I had my operation in the Spire hospital in Bristol where Richard Hammond had spent much of his rehabilitation after an horrific car crash in 2006. A friend swears to this day that ‘The Hamster’, when at death’s door, waved to him through the window: utter codswallop. 

Until recently I had assumed Spire was exclusively a private hospital. If Carlsberg did hospitals Spire would belong to a better beer than Carlsberg. It was more like a hotel and I was as happy as Lenny Henry in a Premier Inn. The operation was however drawing closer. When impending doom awaits I tend to just not think about it, putting it to the back of my mind. So, until I was being wheeled into the operating theatre, the fact that part of my hamstring was going to be inserted into my knee remained deliberately on my periphery.

My anaesthetist was a big burly man who reminded me of Hammond’s fellow petrol-head buddy Jeremy Clarkson. He was incredibly in your face and had no awareness of personal space. My last memory before drifting off into a drug-induced coma was explaining to him that I have never been able to say the word ‘anaesthetist’. He was not amused. The general anaesthetic now rushing around my body did nothing to aid my pronunciation of the word either. Unconsciousness saved me from further humiliation.

I do not remember waking up. I was dazed for most of the afternoon and can recall back as far as watching The Alan Titchmarsh Show which had the desired sobering effect. The food was incredible. It was perhaps the six courses that gave me the false illusion that I was ready to go home. I just had to prove to the physio that I could make it down a flight of steps. Everything was going swimmingly until the penultimate step. Within a second I felt like I had ridden Space Mountain for the first time again. The physio pressed a magic button and five other women, one wielding an oxygen tank, appeared from thin air. The whole debacle was a tad embarrassing.

At least I could stay one more night in this lovely place. Watching Patrick Kielty doing a bikini-clad synchronized swimming routine for Sport Relief reassured me that perhaps my performance wasn’t that embarrassing in the grand scheme of things. I suppose I must applaud him for his contribution towards £51,242,186 total raised that night. I am almost certain however that without these biennial charity events, Patrick Kielty would have been removed from the collective consciousness just as his Fame Academy has been.

I left Spire the next morning and began the knee exercises given to me by the physio. I am under no illusions that if I want to play sport again I am going to have to put the work in. In the meantime I must be content with watching it on the box.

It was a fantastic weekend of football with 42 goals in the Premier League, one fewer than the record set in 2011. Six of these goals sailed past Wojciech Szczesny with no reply which effectively ended Arsenal’s title chase this season in Arsene Wenger’s 1000th game for the Gunners. Almost 9 years since they last won silverware Arsenal must win the FA Cup to emerge with any pride from the season. Wenger’s tenure must surely come under scrutiny if they fail to achieve this. He remains one of the greatest Premier League managers. He will nonetheless be remembered as inherently flawed as a result of his unwavering idealistic tendencies. What a brilliant but stubborn git he is. Injuries aside, Wenger’s tactics on the day were doomed from the start. Santi Cazorla was always going to be overpowered by Nemanja Matic in the midfield. Why on earth was Mathieu Flamini left on the bench until half-time when the game was already beyond Arsenal?

The weekend’s football was brought to an end with a scintillating El Clásico. Lionel Messi somehow managed to have a quiet game while notching a hat-trick as Barcelona forced their way back into a three-way title race, winning the game 4-3. It would be nice to see Atlético Madrid really pull out all the stops and maintain their form until the end of the season. For too long now La Liga has been a predictable two-horse race between Barcelona and Real Madrid. A Diego Costa-inspired Atlético Madrid have shaken it up a bit which is refreshing.

Putting my feet (and new ACL) up in front of El Clásico.

Putting my feet (and new ACL) up in front of El Clásico.

The other day I was invited for a week’s work experience at FourFourTwo magazine. FourFourTwo is a magazine that I have loved for as long as I remember and I cannot wait to get stuck in, even if it is for just a week. A month after that I will begin my Sports Journalism course. I have lots to look forward to. In the meantime, I will continue with my physiotherapy. One step at a time, one cliché at a time.

Ambition

Reluctant Robshaw

Reluctant Robshaw

On Sunday afternoon England rugby captain Chris Robshaw ascended the Twickenham steps to collect the Triple Crown for the first time since 2003 (something else happened that year for England rugby but it escapes me now…). Robshaw’s inherently coy demeanor was apparent as he waded through dozens of fans on the ascent to collect the trophy. It was indicative of everything that is positive about the English rugby team at this moment in time. He was visibly embarrassed that he alone was making the climb. England’s, in the end, comfortable victory over Wales was a team performance and his conduct as he accepted the back-pats and high-fives was truly representative of this. He was much more comfortable when back amongst his teammates.

Take it back four days and about 10 miles north to Wembley stadium where the penultimate match before England’s trip to Rio was taking place. World Cup fever was in the air… for the opening 30 seconds. From thereon in the atmosphere, the day after Shrove Tuesday, was as flat as a pancake and the players did little or nothing to improve the situation. Fitting perhaps but not ideal given that the World Cup is just a few months away. There was little to no cohesion between the players. This lack of unity spread to the fans who became increasingly frustrated with England’s utter lack of ambition. Even after Sturridge’s winner, the crowd were forced to entertain themselves with a Mexican wave: always a damning indictment of the standard of play on the pitch.

Maybe last Wednesday’s performance was a good thing. Following Wembley defeats to Chile and Germany, expectations going into a major tournament are dwindling. The 1-0 defeat of Denmark did little to alter this understandable pessimism. This, to say the least, uninspiring performance versus the painfully average Danes should have raised an inkling of skepticism in even the most optimistic Three Lions fan. Yes, England won but there was almost no ambition in the display, other than from two Saints among the sinners.  

The form side in England are Liverpool. It appears Roy Hodgson has shaped his side around a core of Liverpool players, the club he recently managed. The difference between Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool and Hodgson’s England (and Liverpool for that matter) lies in the emphasis on defending. Only Spain conceded fewer goals (3) than England (4) in European World Cup qualifying whereas only Spurs have conceded more goals (37) than Rodgers’ Liverpool (35) in the top 7. While England’s spine consists of players from the red half of Mersey (Johnson, Gerrard, Henderson, Sterling, Sturridge), the manner in which Hodgson is deploying them means they are restrained.  The freedom granted under Rodgers is removed when wearing the Three Lions . Hodgson’s cautious approach leads to a fear of attacking. It could be argued that Roy Hodgson is the reason for England’s lack of ambition.

However, it should be noted  that only Germany (36) and the Netherlands (34) scored more goals than England (31) in the European zone of qualification for the 2014 World Cup.

Another problem lies in the fact that Wayne Rooney is consistently shoehorned in to formations that do not suit him. Rooney is undoubtedly the most talented footballer we have but his positional indiscipline means that any formation is rendered obsolete when he is on the pitch. An in-form Wayne Rooney hovers in and around the box. An out of form Wayne Rooney, the player we saw at Wembley last Wednesday, hovers around the halfway line, leaving an otherwise rigid formation in tatters.

Daniel Sturridge, the in-form striker in England must be played in his best position: through the middle. His natural goal-scoring instincts are wasted when he is forced out wide to accommodate for golden-boy Rooney. The balance of the team was vastly improved when Rooney was taken off with half an hour to go. If England are to pick players on form, Hodgson must be brave and understand that Rooney has no divine right to the starting XI.

Apart from the continuation of Sturridge’s frankly ridiculous current goal-scoring rate, the impact of the two Southampton men Luke Shaw, who came on at halftime, and Adam Lallana who joined his club teammate in the 59th minute was arguably the only other positive to take from an otherwise depressing outing. They were by far the most threatening England players that evening. Raheem Sterling was awarded with the Man of the Match award but Lallana showed more skill and ambition in the relatively short time he had to impress in front of a disappointing attendance at Wembley.

With regards to Shaw, I personally find it astonishing that in the days following his marvelous display, Ashley Cole was still being touted as the out-and-out favourite to travel to Rio as Leighton Baines’ deputy. I do not wish to belittle Cole’s outstanding career achievements but if this England team is looking to the future Luke Shaw must travel. He will get far more from the experience than the Chelsea-man. I would even  argue that Kieran Gibbs should be higher in the pecking order than Cole.

England need to be looking to the future. England fans must accept that England will not win this forthcoming World Cup but use it as a means to developing the young talent that is obviously there in abundance. Accepting this does not indicate a lack of ambition. It means we can play without fear. When Adam Lallana pulled off a Cruyff turn in the second half against Denmark it did more to arouse the crowd than everything else that night apart from the goal (and possibly the Mexican wave). Fans appreciate moments of ambition such as this.

This is where I bring it back to the rugby on Sunday.

Ben Morgan and Mike Brown fight for possession

Ben Morgan and Mike Brown fight for possession.

This snapshot, taken from the second half epitomises the attitude of the England rugby team at present. Ben Morgan and Mike Brown, pictured, were both outstanding on the day and have been for the entire Six Nations tournament. At this point in the match England were almost out of sight, leading 26-18 with just over 20 minutes remaining yet they are both fighting for a touch of the ball. This is true ambition, considering the calibre of player they were up against. The Welsh team was littered with recent Lions players whereas England’s starting XV had one in Owen Farrell: a player who was largely Johnny Sexton’s understudy in Australia. Reputations were swept aside last week at Twickenham.

When England lost 26-24 to France in their opening match of this Six Nations, there was disappointment, obviously, but also overwhelming praise for the spirit and ambition that England showed in defeat.

One look at England’s rugby team and it screams ball-carriers, players who are not afraid to ‘have a go’. When the most destructive ball-carrier Billy Vunipola was forced to pull out of the Wales fixture with an injury, Ben Morgan stepped up at the back of the scrum and could arguably have been awarded Man of the Match. The accolade was given to Courtney Lawes but it could have gone to any number of players on the day.

Players craved the ball. This is the difference between our football and rugby teams on the pitch at present.

Minus perhaps Lallana and Shaw in the second-half, none of the players at Wembley wanted the ball. Who is to blame for this? The players themselves? The manager? The fans? The media?

In the build-up to the England v Denmark match it emerged that an online petition to banish Tom Cleverley from the England World Cup squad had gained 15,000 signatures. As I write, it has reached 18,815. Who can blame England players for being scared of the ball with this kind of public hatred on the horizon after a few questionable performances. Tom Cleverley may not be the next Paul Gascoigne but is he really deserving of this kind of treatment?

Footballers consistently beat rugby players to the back-pages (and often the front-pages) of national newspapers . They are scrutinised and scrutinised and scrutinised. When the likes of Wayne Rooney are being paid £300,000 a week for kicking a ball, maybe they are deserving of intense scrutiny. Ridiculous wages are public knowledge. It does go some way to understanding why football players are more susceptible to public opinion than their oval ball-shaped counterparts. Performances are weighed against price-tags.

The Aviva Premiership salary cap ensures that our rugby clubs keep a lid on spending to avoid stumbling into a situation akin to the Barclays Premier League where players and agents become more powerful than clubs. Greed has taken over and the only true beneficiaries are football agents and the tabloid media. Footballers are unwittingly thrust into the limelight which creates stories for red tops and turnover for talentless agents. In the age of social media, as soon as somebody important decides Tom Cleverley isn’t good enough for England, the whole of England decides that Tom Cleverley isn’t good enough for England. People must recognise that footballers are real-life people who succumb to pressure like anybody else. Perhaps then England footballers can enjoy playing and England fans can enjoy watching them again.

Until then I will continue pinning my hopes on the England rugby team where selfishness and greed does not rule. We currently have a rugby team that likes to play rugby and I respect that.

In other news, here’s my match report for Weston-super-Mare FC v. Whitehawk FC from the weekend: http://www.footballexclusives.co.uk/apps/blog/show/41886470

Letterboxes

Before Christmas I rang up the local BS9 magazine in search of some valuable experience before applying to Masters courses. I had gotten used to being shot-down by whoever picked up the phone, usually with the answer “we have filled our quota for work experience for the foreseeable future. Try again later…”. I was therefore delighted when I was able to speak directly to the editor of a magazine. His name was Andy and, not to be at all hyperbolic, he was the loveliest man in the world. Rather than firing a disclaimer at me, this beautiful bloke said that he potentially had some work for me.

Before I could say ‘hyperbole’, the loveliest man on the planet was taking me to the headquarters of the ‘Bristol Pound’, a city-wide local currency that was in its early developing stages. I felt like a proper reporter, even if I was only shadowing Andy on this occasion. He had prised open a window to the world of reportage. I had taken my first step up the journalism ladder. I am still extremely grateful to Andy for renewing my optimism in the, at times, seemingly savage world of journalism. ‘Windows and ladders’ certainly beats ‘snakes and ladders’. No snakes as  yet. There will undoubtedly be some Piers Morgans along the way (Grandma said the aforementioned slimy git was “a bit of alright” the other day. I had no words).

As a result of the faith Andy had shown in me, I persisted with my pursuit of further work experience and duly found some. Mike at the Primary Times took a chance on me. The Primary Times is a free magazine for primary school parents and pupils. I enjoyed my time there as a feature writer and chief tea-boy. Most of all though, it allowed me the opportunity to see a proper newsroom in full swing. The Primary Times is situated in the relatively serene eye of the surrounding storm that is the Bristol Evening Post. It was thrilling to (not quite) be a part of! People were running about and swearing a lot. I liked it.

The Primary Times experience meant that I had something substantial to show to St Mary’s when I applied for my Sports Journalism MA a few weeks ago. It was Andy though who had shown that initial conviction in my ability.

I still do the monthly magazine round for the BS9, partly out of gratitude to Andy but mainly because I am skint. Maybe I am just a sheltered individual but the mag-round has given me a huge amount of respect for postmen and an equal amount of disdain for letterbox manufacturers.

My trials and tribulations / letter to letterbox manufactures as a result of my BS9 delivery days:

door 2

1. What a beauty. What is wrong with a letterbox just being a letterbox or, better still, a letterbox not being a letterbox… a hole in a door! As I am breaking my back, lugging the local magazines around the hard streets of Westbury-on-Trym (could it sound anymore middle-class?) there is no better sight. A plank-of-wood door with a hole for letters. No nonsense. I don’t even have to use both hands deposit the goods. Letterbox manufacturers take note.

door 4

2. I call this letterbox ‘a clanger’. It is obvious from a mile off, for an experienced campaigner that is. Every home that has a clanger inevitably also has a dog. From doing the round so many times I now know which doors have clangers and also which clangers have dogs. For dogs that I like I purposefully clang the letterbox as hard as I can. For dogs with big teeth I either avoid the house altogether or apply my fingers on the metal with delicate caution.

door 3

3. Just why? Diagonal letterboxes grind my gears more than any other kind of letterbox. The last thing I want to be doing after trudging about for hours is judging angles, essentially doing maths. Stop this madness please.

door 1

4. I am well-known for having weak, endlessly rollable ankles. Never are they more rollable than when I reach the following house which is towards the tail of my mag-round. After an unnecessarily large collection of steps, the last thing I want to see is a SKULL beside the ‘welcome’ doormat. A juxtaposition if ever there was one. Needless to say I tread very carefully on the way back down.

door 7

Step 1

Step 2

Step 2

I used to approach these houses full of hope. Letterboxes with baskets underneath to catch the post: what a neat idea. False. There is nothing more infuriating than when the magazine falls between the basket and the French window. Unless you get the flight of the mail absolutely right it falls agonisingly short of the target and teeth grinding ensues.

I will put my letterbox loathing on hold for now… maybe forever. My knee operation has been set for March 21 so I may just have to hang up my BS9 boots for the time being. Without the BS9 though I may not have my Sports Journalism course to look forward to. Optimism feeds optimism.

Cheers Andy.

Burgundy Bananas

It is currently bucketing it down outside our man-cave/garden shed as I write this post. When the weather is like this there is no better place to be: Sundays are made of this. Last summer we had Sky Sports installed in the man-cave. As a result I find myself watching some extremely dull sport just because it is there (European Tour Golf is inexorably there on Sky Sports 4 if all else fails). Over on Sky Sports 2 it looks likely that England will fall to another one-day defeat at the hands of the West Indies to make it 2-0 in the series. Subsequently, I have opted for the distinctly average tie of Aston Villa v Norwich on Sky Sports 3 to accompany my blog-writing on this occasion and, for some unknown reason, I’m keeping half an eye on it (it turns out to be a very exciting game, or first half, as it ends 4-1 with all 5 goals in the opening 45 minutes).

Manchester City won the League Cup earlier today, beating Sunderland 3-1. It seems using the outside of the boot is all the rage at the moment. Recently we have seen both Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling providing stellar banana-assists for the on-fire Daniel Sturridge. Today the banana shot was brought back in to fashion at Wembley. Firstly Borini banana-d a shot to put Sunderland 1-0 up in the tenth minute but City blew Sunderland away in the 55th and 56th minutes with stunners from Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri, the latter banana-ing it into onion bag after a scintillating, counter-attack. Sunderland were again caught on the break in the final minute as Jesús Navas sealed the deal and Manchester were crowned League Cup champions.

Roberto Carlos: king of the banana

This time yesterday I was watching Billericay Town FC away at Kingstonian FC. Two weekends in a row I have witnessed non-league football and once again I left the ground impressed by what I had witnessed. Two weekends in a row I have also witnessed non-league football on a hangover. I employed the dubious ‘hair of the dog’ tactic with a pre-match pint in the bar before we went to collect our lovely fairground-like tickets. Billericay dominated the game and went on to win the game 2-0. They employed a nigh-on identical strategy to Weston-super-Mare’s that I had seen a week earlier, focussed around one MONSTER up front. Last week Weston had Chaz Hemmings. This week, Billericay’s centre-forward Ricky Sappleton took the biscuit (in more ways than one, I suspect!). This man makes Adebayo Akinfenwa look emaciated by comparison.

16/02/13 Bishop,s Stortford v Hinckley

Ricky Sappleton: too many biscuits

The previous night I had attended a friend’s party in Isleworth, London. I had travelled across from Bristol that same day and come up with a costume idea in the morning before work. It was an idea which had made a brief appearance at a previous party. I would wear all of the burgundy clothes I could find and a moustache and be Ron Burgundy. Poor effort, I know.

Before making my way over to the capital however I had an appointment with a knee-specialist to discuss my MRI scan results. Before explaining to the doctor why I was wearing entirely maroon, he confirmed that I have a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament and need an operation in about a month’s time. As a result of the rupture I haven’t played sport for over a year. The doctor informed me that I’d be back in action roughly nine months after the operation. Yes, sadly I will miss the 2014 World Cup in Brazil… but I cannot wait to play football again in 2015! My touch is going to be truly awful after over two years out.

I never know how to finish these things. It’s the Oscars tonight so I suppose I’ll put forward my meaningless support for my favourite three films of the year: The Wolf of Wall Street, 12 Years a Slave and Inside Llewyn Davis. Good films them, hope they win stuff.

Seagulls

I made my aversion to beaches fairly clear in my last post. Why then did I find myself in Weston-super-Mare yesterday, famously (or infamously in my case) home to one of those pesky landforms?

In truth, I kept my distance from Weston Bay. I was there to watch the mighty Weston-super-Mare FC play at their Woodspring Stadium versus Dover Athletic FC. I had never witnessed a non-league football match before and was not expecting much in the way of quality. As David Brent once stated , “Don’t assume, it makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’” and, accordingly, I was made to to look a bit of an ass (better that than a beach-dwelling Weston donkey though!).The match was fantastic and I met some lovely people.

Ass or donkey?

Ass or donkey?

The previous night I had attended a friend’s birthday party in London and let’s just say I was a little worse for wear come match-day. The hospitality of the club though was immediately apparent and my hangover subsided. In fact, every person I met in Weston was lovely. Take the taxi driver who took me from the train station to the ground: he looked like Grant Mitchell and had one of those Lil Wayne teardrop tattoos beside his left eye. Someone once told me that you get this tattoo as a sign that you have killed someone. This cabby however was genuinely the nicest I’ve ever had the pleasure of ‘riding shotgun’ for.

Grant giving me a lift to the ground.

Grant giving me a lift to the ground.

Upon my arrival at the ground I took up my seat in the director’s box. I’m not entirely sure that’s where I was supposed to be but I was soon barricaded in by a few Weston old boy stalwarts. They took me in straight away and I felt at home. What’s more, ‘The Seagulls’ went on to win the game 2-1 with a last-gasp(ish) winner from the impressive Dayle Grubb, a rasping shot from twenty yards. I had so much fun that I often forgot I was there for a job. It was my first time match reporting for ‘Football Exclusives’ who are “Revolutionising the coverage of non-league football”. Roll on 8 March for Weston’s next home fixture against Whitehawk FC! I had to look up where Whitehawk was and discovered it is in Brighton, where I used to live. Yes, I am aware that Brighton also has a beach!

Having already mentioned Dover, I am afraid this post is becoming beach-centric. I therefore must the wave you goodbye (pun intended). Bye.

Seagulls!

Seagulls!

For anyone interested, here is my match report for Weston-super-Mare FC v. Dover Athletic FC: http://www.footballexclusives.co.uk/apps/blog/show/41692721