Apologies for my absence from this blog. It’s been a while I know, but I’ve been a busy young gentleman I will have you know. A combination of university work being harder than the previous year (no surprises there), playing hockey and commitments I have to GUSA (Glasgow Univeristy Sports Association) as their publicity convenor. This means I am still writing. Just not here.
Anyways, with 2012 and what not now upon us and with a shortage of decent New Years Resolutions to pick from (I at one staged considered not going on Facebook for as long as I could but I’m aware of how unrealistic this is for someone who has, as the kids describe as, FOMO – Fear of Missing Out), I thought I would give this medium a bash again. Heck, I’ve missed it. I’ve missed you too, reader, I really have.
But what to write about? I could give you my two cents on the Luis Suarez debacle, but I’ll spare you. Seeking ideas over Twitter only my friend and fellow sports journalist Dave Lyons came up with a suggestion. Dave suggested the growing trend of managers opting to go for older players at times of need, for example in recent years Jens Lehmann, Sol Campbell and Thierry Henry (all Arsenal), Landon Donovan (Everton), as well as Henrik Larsson and Paul Scholes (both Manchester United).
Dave’s argument was that older players offer better value than taking a risk on younger players who play with an inflated price-tag. After a splurge of transfer activity in the last eighteen months, there appears to be a surplus of said players (Torres, Downing, Henderson, Carroll and Ashley Young to name but five).
This fairly recent trend of bringing older players back is a fairly new one (the earliest I can recall this happening is when Henrik Larsson signed for Manchester United for a short loan in 2007). Whether this is a sign of things to come, however, I am not so sure.
Yes, despite having a bronze statue of his former glory years, Thierry Henry scored a lovely goal for Arsenal on Monday night, triggering the expected calls of “he’s still got it” and what have you. What is interesting to note is that Henry (or Scholes in his surprise return against Manchester City on Sunday) did not start the fixture. Nor is it likely that he will start many games before he returns to New York next month. Rather than replacing the youngsters, these older players supplement the squad, and give said youngsters the benefit of their experience. The best sporting comparison I can describe this as is the way a “club pro” operates with a local cricket team.
Will this mean the end of big transfers then? In a word, no. For what is also key to point out is that all the examples listed have been January deals, whereas the signing of younger players (generally) are in the summer months. The months of July and August in football smell of hope, which is often drowned out by January’s nerves. To spend £30 million on a player in January seems reckless (Andy Carroll); the same amount in July (Sergio Aguero) is seen as optimistic.
Ultimately, the recruitment of older players on short loan reflects the short-termism of today’s football. Andre Villas-Boas (I out-rightly refuse to refer to him as ‘AVB’, it is just as bad as ‘CR7′) is a fine young managerial talent, yet his plans to regenerate Chelsea are being criticised since the first phase – replacing the ageing Chelsea midfield with younger players – has not reflected positively in results. A bit of
patience and not panic buying is needed, which is why I feel the returning of elder statesmen is here to stay. Although, the only person I feel sympathy for in this situation is the man who engraved Thierry Henry’s bronze statue. He only just finished Henry’s goal tally. Poor lad.
BUCS Scottish 1A
30th November 2011
As featured in Glasgow Guardian
On a night when it was quite feasibly drier at the swimming pool at the Stevenson Building than the horrific wind and rain occurring outside, Glasgow’s Women Waterpolo team suffered their first defeat of the season to a clinical and robust Stirling University team.
Stirling showed their intent early on, scoring with their first attempt of the game within the first ninety seconds. It was a sign of things to come in the first quarter, with Stirling’s attacking play appearing to overwhelm Glasgow. Pre-match optimism was swiftly drowned out by the fluid passing of the visitor’s play, with goalkeeper Sarah Hirschfield needing to be alert to keep Stirling from fully capitalising on their early pressure. Yet despite her efforts, Glasgow found themselves down by six after the first quarter, and with the proverbial mountain to climb if they were to continue their unbeaten run.
The second quarter brought with it Glasgow’s first goal of the game as Nikki Sutcliffe found the back of the net from close range after two minutes of the match’s resumption. Indeed Glasgow started to show some of the play which earned them victories in their first two matches of the season. The half-time score was 9-1, an improvement on the first quarter, but Glasgow will be disappointed with themselves that the gap in score line was not further reduced. Having created far more chances, with one of Kirsten Hunter’s efforts striking the crossbar and Mia Kimmelman firing just wide, a deficit of eight and a solitary goal was not a fair reflection on how Glasgow had managed to make Stirling work much harder.
That Glasgow were not able to reduce the deficit even further will be of great disappointment for the team. A second strike by Nikki Sutcliffe and a goal from Leah Kellet in the third quarter were to be the only times Glasgow were to get the ball past the Stirling goalkeeper. By the end of the third quarter Glasgow were trailing by ten, with only three goals to their name. But what was becoming apparent as the match progressed was the unsavoury tactics resorted to by Stirling. Due to the momentum produced by their dominant first quarter, towards the end of the three quarter the result did not appear in doubt. Yet some of the Glasgow players, Zoe Cuthbert especially, found themselves on the receiving end of some manoeuvres which would receive police cautions on a typical Friday night on Sauchiehall Street. Not only were these tactics uncalled for within the context of the match, but it also made the match scrappy for players and spectators alike. The final quarter provided goals, unfortunately all for Stirling, with the full time score being 16-3 to the visitors.
On reflection, captain Kirsten Hunter was philosophical about her team’s first defeat of the season. “If we won all the time then we would have nothing to improve on!” she said after the match. When discussing how the first quarter appeared to set the tone for the rest of the match, Hunter admitted her disappointment. “They had some really good players” she said, “and maybe this intimidated us in the first quarter. However we did well to get back in the match from the tough start and to prevent the margin (of defeat) getting larger”. Regarding Glasgow’s own performance, their limited movement in the pool was their major downfall, since it slowed down their play. Stirling’s abrasive strategy towards Glasgow, especially from the third quarter onwards was largely unnecessary agreed Hunter, but she was happy with how her team kept their composure despite this. Glasgow will be disappointed by the defeat, but with their next match against Dundee just around the corner, the chance of redemption is not far away.
Before I moved to Glasgow for my studies, I lived in a house which was rather passionate about football, in particular a certain team from Glasgow (I won’t say who, but all you need to know is that it was not Partick Thistle). As a consequence of this, we had a subscription to the now defunct Setanta Sports, since they had the television rights for Scottish football. I mention this because Setanta was an Irish-based sports channel, who often showed live footage of Gaelic Football, a sport which draws attendances of 82,000 at Croke Park in Dublin. This was my first glance at a sport which was attacking, fast, skilful and aggressive.
Sadly, Setanta Sports is no more, and with its demise so followed chances to watch the sport, which was something I was disappointed about. So when I had the opportunity to go to a training session with the University of Glasgow Gaelic Football Club and have a go at the sport myself, I leapt at the chance.
Gaelic Football is played on a pitch not too dissimilar from a rugby pitch, albeit it is longer. The goalposts are similar to those of rugby too, only the lower section has a net to make it more like football goalposts. The object is to score more points than the other team. This can be in one of two ways; firstly, by kicking the football over the bar (for one point) or by scoring past the goalkeeper into the goal (for three points). To pass the football to a team mate, you have two options; you can either kick the ball to someone or you can perform a “hand-pass” with your fist or wrist.
Following a basic warm up, we then started doing what is commonly known as “suicides”, as anyone who has seen the film Coach Carter will know. This involved running progressively longer lengths of the pitch whilst doing the required kick or bounce with the ball (you have to do this every three or four steps). The running alone would be bad enough for someone with a fitness level which is lower than he had imagined it to be, but combine it with having to bounce and kick a football? Well, let’s just say I found it tough.
The next training exercise we did was compared to a level in the old game show “Gladiators”, in which you have to get past three banks of defenders to the other end of the zone. This was when I first truly appreciated that Gaelic Football was indeed a contact sport; the coach was instructing the defenders “to put them on their arses”, which once or twice in my case they duly obliged. When it was my turn to be the defender I tried to do the same, but weakness in both body and mind prevented me from doing so.
I spoke to the captain of the Gaelic Football team Rory McKeever. Despite the standard of Gaelic Football not being like it is in Ireland, it is always improving in the UK. In Scotland, there are two men’s leagues and two women’s league with ten universities in Scotland fielding teams and a recent UK championships attracted teams from over sixty universities.
Facilities are a bit of an obstacle for the Gaelic Football team since it is a struggle to find pitches. As a compromise, they play on rugby pitches and cut the team size from fifteen players to thirteen. McKeever argues, however, this is used as an advantage. “It isn’t really a problem since there are fewer players in Scotland”, McKeever believes, “it also offers a bit more space on the pitch and allows us to be more efficient in our play”.
After the training session I was trying to find a way to describe gaelic football to an outsider. Finding comparisons was difficult – is it like football, rugby, or basketball? Ultimately, what McKeever said summed it up perfectly. “It is just unique. It’s like Gaelic”. That is, I guess, ultimately the only way it can be described.
Featured in November’s QMUnicate Magazine
The great Liverpool manager of the 1960s and 70s Bill Shankly once said that “the socialism I believe in is everyone working for each other, everyone having a share of the rewards. It’s the way I see football, the way I see life”. A man famous for mixing his political beliefs with his football tactics, one wonders just how much turning in his grave Shankly will be performing after the latest comments by Liverpool’s managing director Ian Ayre this month. Ayre spoke of a need for individual clubs to negotiate their own foreign television rights, instead of the current system in which the £800m per season the Premiership receives in foreign revenue is divided equally amongst the twenty clubs.
If this was to happen, and there is no reason to suggest that one day it could not, this would ultimately be highly damaging to the competitive element of the Premiership in England. If things were to change, the bigger clubs in England would have a much stronger hand in negotiating when fixtures were played and how much they could receive for the privilege. With English football’s astoundingly large fan base around the world, especially in Asia, one suspects that the much-loved 3pm kick-off on a Saturday would be sacrificed for audiences in Shanghai and Seoul. As the gap between the richer and poorer clubs would expand the Premiership would lose the competitiveness which makes it the most popular league in the world, with the richer teams consistently winning the places in the Champions League and the prestige that that would bring. If what Ayre is proposing becomes reality, then the Premiership would lose what has made it so popular.
If one really wants to see the damage such a decision would cause, we need to look no further than Spain and their top division, La Liga. Spanish football’s domination by Real Madrid and Barcelona is reflected in the television income that they receive; between the two clubs they earn £450m per season, around half of La Liga’s income.
This has made La Liga a playing field so unlevel it is more suitable for downhill skiing than football; the most obvious way that it is detrimental to the other clubs in the league is that they simply have more money than the other teams. This means that they can invest more in the transfer market, improve their training facilities and youth development structures. Barcelona has the best youth development program in the world, but scouting the world for the next Lionel Messi does not come cheap. Also, because they have the monopoly on television rights they effectively have a stranglehold on any revenue produced as a consequence of being on television most frequently and also at “prime time” (in Spain, this is late on a Saturday evening); television commercials, advertising billboards and kit suppliers are all only interested in these two teams as a consequence.
What this means for the other eighteen teams in La Liga is that, bar the obvious financial loss, they have to fit their schedule around the agreements of Real Madrid and Barcelona. Unlike in any other major league in the world, many teams in Spain struggle to get a shirt sponsor. To businesses, they are not worth the investment since they are seldom seen on television and are thus not “value for money”. Investors are only interested in when they play Real Madrid and Barcelona, which is only four times a season. This expands the gap between the “big two” and everyone else even further.
One such club with a sponsor less shirt, and a perfect example of how Spain’s tilted system disadvantages a club, is Valencia. In the last two seasons, Valencia has had to sell three of the most sought-after players in the world, David Silva (to Manchester City), Juan Mata (to Chelsea) and David Villa (to Barcelona). Granted, they have been well compensated in the loss of these three players (a grand sum of £87.7m, to be precise), but would Valencia fans not rather prefer them to still playing for their team and winning trophies? The emotions that those can trigger, especially with home-grown players, is a commodity that cannot be easily bought and sold. I think that’s a sentiment Bill Shankly would share.
BUCS Division 1A
11th October 2011
As featured in Glasgow University Guardian
Glasgow University Men’s Hockey Club 1st XI started their BUCS league campaign with a hard-fought 1-1 draw against their arch rivals from Dundee.
Having had a successful intake of talented new players, the Glasgow squad that took to the pitch at Garscube failed to resemble that of last season’s National Three champions. Six Freshers’ were in the squad on a day which did not make ideal conditions for a debut; although the pitch was slick from the usual bout of autumn rain, the chilling gusts of wind and the sideward motions of rain meant a tough day’s graft for all involved, including the hardy supporters on the touchline.
It might have been the advantage of the strong winds behind Dundee back which helped them dominate the first half. Glasgow, due to a combination of the abhorrent weather and skilful hockey from the visitors struggled to vacate from their own half. The defence of Duncan Robertson, Andy Nicoll, Andrew McGucken and Dom Lambert coped well with the pressure however, and even on the few occasions when Dundee managed to create an opening goalkeeper Mark Hutchinson was more than capable at keeping them at bay. Unusually tall for a hockey goalkeeper, Hutchinson has the ability to cover nearly the entire goal; an asset which was needed for much of a first half in which Dundee accumulated eight short corners in comparison to Glasgow’s two.
Although it could be argued that Dundee had the upper hand in the opening thirty five minutes, that is not to say that Glasgow were not without chances. With one of Glasgow’s short corners Dan MacAuley’s drag-flick forced a good save from Dundee’s goalkeeper in the ninth minute. Struggling to gain possession, Glasgow’s main threat in the first half was from counter-attacks; with pace up front from Neil Morton Lloyd, Leo Howes and Rory McCann, they offered a release ball when the midfield were being pressurised. Despite their threat, and Dundee having a few cracking opportunities, at half-time the rain-soaked crowd had yet to witness a goal.
As the rain quietened down and the wind decreased during the half-time interval so did the venom in Dundee’s attack. Glasgow recovered from a relatively poor start and in the second half started to show some of the form which defined last season’s successes. Less than a minute of the second half had been played before MacAuley showed Glasgow’s intent with a shot which went just wide. A superb aerial lob pass from Mark Campbell to McCann ten minutes later lead to a shot which produced a fine save from the visitors’ goalkeeper. It was a sign of better things to come from Glasgow, who with fifteen minutes left took a deserved lead. A fine passing move involving Neil Morton Lloyd and MacAuley lead to an opportunity for Poids Scott. Scott, left with a shot from an improbable angle outrageous attempt from the by-line, somehow managed to find the top right corner of the goal with an immense strike to give Glasgow something to show for their improved second half performance.
Having done so well to get themselves back in to the match and take the lead, it was with great disappointment that the one goal advantage was so short-lived. Four minutes after taking the lead a rare defensive blip from Glasgow left a Dundee striker at the back-post unmarked to give Dundee an equaliser which they will argue is the least that they deserve from their trip from the River Tay. 1-1 is how the match finished.
On reflection captain Rory McCann was philosophical about the result and the performance. McCann said, “I was going in to the game obviously hoping for a win, but was aware that it would be a tough ask with it being our first game of the season. After the onslaught of the first half we were very relieved for the score to remain 0-0 at half time, and we have to give a lot of credit to the short corner defence team there.” McCann did recognise the positives from the game however, such as the solid performances from the fresh faces of the team. “Once the guys had gelled, every one of them marked their debut with a spirited and energetic performance” McCann said, “at this stage of the season I couldn’t ask for anything more”.
When I was a young boy, trawling through the joys which a primary school education supplies, waking up in the morning was not something I particularly enjoyed. Then for a brief few weeks in 2002 this no longer became a chore. I was eleven years old and in Primary 6 when the football World Cup was held in Japan and South Korea, and due to the time difference between Fort William and South-East Asia the matches were all on at about 7:30 am, meaning instead of “Everybody Loves Raymond” I was watching England versus Argentina. Looking back, those were the best mornings of my life.
This year’s Rugby World Cup has reminded me of those simpler times. Waking up to the New Zealand hammering anyone in their tracks and Ireland defeating Australia has made my mornings (especially the post-Freshers’ Week ones) far more bearable. Is it the best alarm clock you could ask for? Well, it would be the best alarm clock if you weren’t Scottish.
As per, the Scottish rugby team has fitted in to the mantra of glory in defeat, of losing when winning seemed more likely. Like the football team against the Czech Republic at Hampden last month, who managed to gain and lose a lead within the final eight minutes, another characteristic of Scottish sport appears to be leaving it far too late to crawl themselves back into a winning position. Like the Scottish football team, who blew it against Lithuania and away to the Czech Republic (remember the infamous 4-6-0? Strikers are overrated aren’t they?), their rugby counterparts loss to Argentina means that they are the only member of the top eight (the original five nations in Europe and the tri-nations of the Southern Hemisphere) not to reach the quarter finals. The 16-12 defeat to England was defiant, and arguably the Scots should’ve won, but it was again too little too late.
An aspect of following a team or a country which is pretty rubbish at sport is that, because of the Internet and Facebook sledging is unavoidable. Where as in the past school or work could be negotiated via avoiding attention, the Internet offers no such hiding place. And, as Chris Ashton’s try hammered the final nail into Scotland’s World Cup hopes, it opened a can of patriotic patronisation across the social networks. This was something which I could’ve done without from my English Facebook friends, to be honest.
A sense of perspective is needed here. Of course, losing to your biggest rival in any sport and in any context can be a gutting experience. To lose to the Auld Enemy in the dying minutes, and subsequently being eliminated from a tournament which has taken four years of preparation, is far from ideal. However, a sense of perspective is probably needed here. England is a country roughly eleven times the size of Scotland, with twenty four professional teams. Scotland in comparison only has two (Edinburgh Rugby and Glasgow Warriors). So there is no shame in losing to a last-minute try from a vastly superior rugby nation, albeit our biggest rivals. And besides, had we won by the required eight points, we would’ve been facing New Zealand on their own patch. Maybe glorious defeat isn’t so bad after all?