Here are a list of figures… the title of the blog will give you a clue as to what they represent; but for the sake of good order I can confirm that these are the positions where Leicester City have finished in the English football pyramid over the past decade.
39th, 42nd, 43rd, 25th, 30th, 29th, 26th, 21st, 14th, 1st
Even if you were blissfully unaware of how the Foxes overcame odds of 5,000/1 to become the most unlikely, and glorious champions in the history of the sport last year, it’s not difficult to work out that Leicester’s Premier League status hasn’t exactly been a given in recent seasons—in fact it’s not that long ago that the club were relegated to the third tier… how quickly we forget.
The word “miracle” is all-too-easily bandied about in respect of sporting achievement, but what Leicester City accomplished last season was probably as close as you can get to that inexplicable event (albeit without the prerequisite divine intervention). Winning the Premier League was a remarkable feat... actually, being in the division in the first place was amazing enough given their position a dozen or so games before the end of the 2014/15 campaign.
Nigel Pearson’s heroics weren’t enough to keep him in employment then, and although I’m in no way comparing the two departures, Claudio Ranieri has now been shown the same door.
The product delivered to the fans today is far removed from the game I watched as a child. The money involved in football—particularly in the top flight—is beyond my comprehension; and to those who run the clubs success is measured in pounds, shillings and pence (you can replace sterling with the currency of any respective owner’s actual country of birth).
You only have to see the differences in team selection to recognise that certain competitions are essentially meaningless when compared with the financial rewards of simply preserving Premier League status. Claudio Ranieri’s title triumph was a blip; a wonderful, magnificent blip, and with Leicester City currently in a position where the whole world would have expected them to be had it not been for that “blip”, this thoroughly likeable man has paid a heavy price for the consequences of increased expenditure and arguably unrealistic heightened expectation.
Money and sentiment do not mix in the modern game; and words clearly mean very little (viz. the club’s declaration of “unwavering support” just over a fortnight ago), but if the owners have done the Italian one favour, they have forever preserved his reputation and status in the East Midlands. I might be wrong, but I fancy the Leicester bosses will miss Claudio Ranieri long before he misses them….
The death of former Australian rugby union Dan Vickerman (at the age of just 37) has once again brought the subjects of sport and mental health into focus.
It’s a sad reality that mental health is often only discussed in real detail when a tragic event propels the subject into the news, but the struggle for those affected doesn’t disappear at the end of the bulletin, or when the paper is folded and placed on the coffee table.
Dan Vickerman was a genuinely outstanding athlete. He was capped 63 times for the Wallabies; a tough, brave, uncompromising second-row; who worked incredibly hard to become one of the finest players in his position in the world.
Surely, no one as strong as Dan Vickerman could have mental health problems, right?
I’ve read numerous articles detailing how athletes (particularly in a team environment) can find it incredibly difficult to adjust to life after sport. The camaraderie, the years of training, the victories, the defeats, the highs and lows, the striving to be the best you can be–it feels safe inside that sporting bubble, but the only thing that’s guaranteed in the career of any person playing any sport at any level is that it will end.
And the bubble will inevitably burst.
Once you leave the field, court or whatever arena it may be for the very last time, there is no turning back. You can walk into the same dressing room and greet the same people that were your team mates just one week earlier… but it’s different. You can remain active in your chosen sport in numerous capacities, but the minute you cease to be a player… a competitor… it’s different.
You have your memories, photographs, press cuttings, maybe trophies and medals too, but when you wake up on the morning of a game and the realisation dawns that you’re not involved; in fact you won’t be taking to the field with your team mates ever again… that’s when the reality can hit home.
Some people manage the transition from sport to whatever lies ahead relatively well; but for others the effect can be far more traumatic. Mental illness in whatever form doesn’t distinguish between sports, between abilities, between achievements; you can have the most commanding physical presence, yet the human mind is still stronger.
The mind can take a simple thought and twist it into any number of negative outcomes. It can make you feel haunted by the past, and terrified by the future. It can strip away your strength, your belief, the opinion of your own worth or value, until all that is left is a hollow shell. It can send you into a seemingly unstoppable downward spiral, make you believe you are a burden to those who love and care for you the most, and that a life which might seem perfect to those looking in from the outside is totally meaningless.
Comparing the intensity of a forward battle on the rugby field to the challenges posed by mental illness may seem ridiculous–but much as you cannot overcome an opposition pack on your own, why shouldn’t you call on some help to tackle whatever demons there are hiding inside your head?
The answer is there’s no actual reason why you shouldn’t, but plenty why people don’t.
It might be the hardest step you ever take, but if you are suffering, don’t be afraid to talk… to a relative, a friend, a doctor, it doesn’t matter… just please talk. You are never alone.
My thoughts are with Dan Vickerman’s widow and two young sons, who must try and somehow come to terms with such a terrible loss. On the field, Dan was a fearless warrior; he was also a remarkably brave man in death. I salute you Dan… I hope the pain has ended.
I've just heard the news that UK Sport has turned down an appeal against its decision to award no funding at all to badminton in the build-up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
A number of sports have lost funding, but in pure cash terms, badminton is the biggest loser, having previously been awarded £5.7m. The original decision was difficult enough to understand, as Team GB returned from Rio with the one medal from the badminton court, which had been their pre-Games target.
This reaction came in a statement from GB Badminton: “We are staggered by this decision. Given the strength of evidence we were able to present to justify investment, we cannot believe UK Sport has concluded they should stand by their decision and award zero funding to our GB programme. We have players who are on track to win medals for the nation at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and our belief in those players remains as great as it's ever been. We will now take some time to consider our next steps."
I suppose when you represent a sport’s governing body, you have to register your disappointment with an element of pragmatic restraint—I don’t… therefore I don’t…!
In connection with the decision, the BBC website quoted Rod Carr, UK sport chair’s response to the simple question: why?
“They didn’t bring any evidence at the board that would convince us to move them from a possible medal in Tokyo to a probable medal in Tokyo. Unfortunately with the resources (i.e. money) that we have we are not able to invest in possible medalling sport, only those that are probable and they didn’t fulfil that criteria, in our opinion.”
So when exactly does meeting a target become “over-achieving”?
Through the efforts of Chris Langridge and Marcus Ellis, Team GB did nothing worse than fulfilling their target. If the “powers that be” deemed that their medal chances were just “possible”, then the only two scenarios are that a) they don’t know what they’re talking about, or b) Team GB exceeded expectations—i.e. over-achieved.
And to suggest GB Badminton “didn’t bring any evidence” is, frankly, ludicrous. Exactly what more evidence do you need to bring than a great big lump of bronze with a ribbon on it?
I accept there are budgetary constraints, and that if UK Sport doesn’t feel it can invest in a sport that only has a “possible” chance of a medal in Tokyo, then fine—even though that’s clearly what they did with badminton in Rio. All of which begs another question; when does “possible” turn into “probable”?
Clearly not when you can demonstrate “actual”?
More from Mr Carr: “Every cycle is new, with new athletes and new competition and so on. I think the reality is that yes they did meet their targets but our view of their performance over the whole cycle last time and looking forward to whom they regularly beat and lost to doesn’t convince us that they’ll probably win a medal in Tokyo.”
Or alternatively, you could argue that you have a group of talented committed athletes, who gave everything over a four-year cycle and in the case of Messrs Langridge and Ellis peaked at exactly the right time–and only four athletes from right around the globe performed better when it really mattered.
Actually, I’m pretty certain we didn’t sweep the proverbial board in rowing and cycling between London and Rio, but cometh the hour….
I’m far too polite to criticise Mr Carr as a person; suffice to say his comments demonstrate a lack of knowledge and insight that should be a given for a man in his position. UK Sport has clearly moved the goalposts on little more than whim–those goalposts are worth almost £6 in cash terms, and more than that, they represent years of dedication, determination, drive and desire for those affected.
Not a good day.
Time to Change Challenge no.82 on my list of 100 (and the 78th to be attempted) was “to put my old aching body through a yoga session”. Strictly speaking, I completed the challenge and a bit more this morning, when I was given an introduction to both yoga and Pilates by Vicky Rees at Studio 21 on Yarm High Street.
Although Vicky and I have known each other for quite a while, I was still nervous at the prospect of what would be a totally new experience. To say my body is a wreck would be a bit of an understatement, and I was concerned that my hips, back or pretty much any other part of me would wave the white flag at some point during the other session.
The other reason was that the last time Vicky had been part of one of my challenges, it was as a team mate in my farewell netball performance. Vicky is Grangetown Netball Club captain, and there is a photo of Vicky jogging past me during the game with a huge grin on her face—caused no doubt, by another failed attempted interception.
And if she thought my efforts on the netball court were funny…!
But I needn’t have worried.
Vicky had prepared a plan for me in advance, but before getting underway, I completed a health questionnaire and we discussed the highlighted areas of concern (of which there were many); and throughout the session, Vicky was always able to adapt aspects of the positions and exercises to suit my own mobility.
The session began with work on my posture and some basic yoga stretches, before a series of exercises on the Pilates reformer, and some breathing techniques to finish.
Everything was fully explained and demonstrated—and I now have a couple of exercises to practice that will hopefully help with my lifelong round-shouldered posture, and strengthen my back. I found the stretching quite difficult… and surprisingly tiring. It’s not that long since I completed a three-hour indoor row, but I was clearly using different muscles on the mat, and I won’t deny that it was hard work—thankfully Vicky kept a close eye on how I was doing, and made sure everything was done at a pace and level to suit me.
The Pilates reformer looks like an ancient instrument of torture, but I actually enjoyed the various exercises; although there was a slight moment of panic when Vicky heard a “grating” noise in my ankle when I did the Achilles tendon stretch. Something to add as a P.S. to the health questionnaire!
Just for the record, Pilates was invented by a German named Joseph Pilates—whereas I believe yoga was created by a smarter than average inhabitant of Jellystone Park….
During the closing breathing techniques, Vicky told me to focus on any areas of my body that were aching—amazingly there were none, and I found myself feeling totally relaxed; something I hadn’t expected, but it was a lovely sensation.
Vicky was fantastic and the whole session was tailored to my own capabilities. She gave me a lot of really good advice, made sure I worked hard, and limits were steadily pushed in a controlled way that made me feel totally comfortable.
A number of people have told me of the benefits of Pilates and yoga; I must admit I wasn’t sure whether it would help someone of rapidly advancing years and limited flexibility, but it was a really positive experience from start to finish.
Many people will have started 2017 with renewed resolve and determination; and if you happen to live in our around Teesside and are (or know someone who is) thinking about trying a new form of exercise (as part of a class, or one-to-one), in pleasant surroundings with an excellent instructor… then please click the link below and learn a bit more about Studio 21.
I’m going to practice improving my posture now. Thanks Vicky; this was a brilliant Time to Change challenge.