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.
I watched the Sports Personality of the Year awards last night—or “SPOTY” as the event now appears to be known—and it certainly looked like a lavish occasion, as the great and the good from the world of sport gathered in Belfast to celebrate the achievements of the past twelve months.
And there have undoubtedly been plenty of notable performances and successes… but anyone hoping for an in-depth review of (or even a few half-decent clips from) the sporting year was going to be left disappointed as the two-and-a-bit hours (including an overrun caused almost single-handedly by Northern Ireland football manager Michael O’Neill) consisted mainly of profiles and interviews featuring the twelve contenders for the main award, and the presentation of the various other trophies.
For me, two of the biggest highlights were Bailey Matthews receiving the Helen Rollason award; the eight year-old has remarkable inner strength and I doubt we have heard the last of this inspiring youngster; and the appearance of Lizzie Jones, widow of the late Keighley Cougars half back Danny, who sang “Danny Boy” to the backdrop of pictures of those sportsmen and women who had passed away during 2015. To hear her sing so beautifully as an image of her husband appeared on the large screen behind her was so moving: she is an incredibly courageous young woman.
It was really good to see netball getting a mention, with England’s Tracey Neville being nominated for the Coach of the Year, and her squad in the long list for Team of the Year after their third-place finish at August’s World Cup. The England women’s footballers also finished third in their respective World Cup, and their efforts were rewarded by Lucy Bronze’s inclusion in the final twelve for the evening’s big prize.
It is no secret that the England women’s EuroHockey triumph is my absolute favourite sporting moment of the whole year. What the girls achieved in overturning a two goal final quarter deficit against the reigning World and Olympic champions Holland before dominating the penalty shoot-out was truly outstanding. The celebrations that followed Holland’s decisive miss were wonderful to watch, as goalkeeper Maddie Hinch was engulfed by her joyous team mates. It was a show of unrestrained joy from the girls, many of whom had shown so much character to win a bronze medal at London 2012 in the guise of Great Britain; and I for one can’t wait for Rio….
That said I must admit I struggled to recognise the members of the victorious squad who attended the event. They all looked fantastic, but every previous time I’ve seen them, they’ve had a stick in their hand and a number on their back… I’m pretty sure they had neither last night. I have been lucky enough to meet Alex Danson, so I spotted her straightaway. I’m 99.9% sure Sophie Bray was there… possibly Lily Owsley as well? I may need some help now….
It’s hard to criticise those charged with selecting a list of candidates (or eventual winners) because the process would seem to be a subjective minefield. I listened briefly to a radio phone-in after the show when callers were effectively saying that “so-and-so should have won because… er… I wanted them to”. Defining success or putting a scale of achievement into some sort of context is nigh on impossible; all I would say is that every single individual or team nominee absolutely deserved to be recognised… and the hockey girls were robbed!
Just for the record, I wonder if Leicester City came under serious consideration as a possible contender for Team of the Year, because you’d have been ridiculed for suggesting that what they have achieved in 2015 was even conceivable, let alone possible….
Moving on to the main award… my preferred winner and runner-up (Jessica Ennis-Hill and Kevin Sinfield) actually came third and second respectively. I was slightly disappointed for our World Heptathlon champion, but elated to see rugby league getting some totally deserved (and long overdue) recognition through the endeavours of the Leeds Rhinos and Great Britain captain. Sinfield is a modest man who has excelled in arguably the toughest team sport; and the fact that he and the eventual winner polled more than half of the total number of votes cast is a staggering statistic that must be a huge boost to everyone involved in rugby league.
The winner was by this point a foregone conclusion, and Andy Murray duly stepped up to receive his second Sports Personality of the Year award in three years. He wasn’t my choice, but no argument at all with the result; after all, three hundred-and-something thousand voters can’t be wrong, can they?!
Murray still seems to have his detractors, but notwithstanding his talent on the tennis court, I actually have a lot of time for the man himself; and I thought the speech he gave on receiving the trophy was just right for the occasion.
So there you have it. Congratulations to all the winners and a big well done to me for typing something in the region of 850 words and not mentioning Tyson Fury once….
“I’m not sexist,” declared Tyson Fury. “I believe a woman’s best place is in the kitchen and on her back. That’s my personal belief. Making me a good cup of tea, that’s what I believe.”
And about Jessica Ennis-Hill: “That’s the runner, isn’t it? She’s good, she’s won quite a few medals, she slaps up good as well. When she’s got a dress on she looks quite fit.”
Add remarks seemingly equating homosexuality and abortion with paedophilia, and it isn’t difficult to form an opinion about the 27 year-old recently crowned World Heavyweight boxing champion… and it’s certainly not a particularly flattering opinion.
I have read that Fury is a religious man… a born-again Christian apparently. I disagree totally with his beliefs and comments, but I suppose he has as much right as anyone to air his views.
Or does he?
In the overall scheme of things, my opinion is of no consequence. I’m not even sure if the people living two doors down the street know who I am… far less care about what I have to say. However in defeating Wladimir Kitschko, Fury not only reached the pinnacle of his chosen sport, he (almost by definition) became a role model.
For me, elevation to the kind of lofty status that brings worldwide fame and no lack of financial reward is accompanied by an albeit unwritten code to preserve the reputation of the sport in question—and the ability to step away from causing needless controversy.
To overcome the Ukrainian was an undeniably fantastic achievement, and in my opinion the performance warrants Fury’s inclusion in the twelve-strong shortlist for Sunday’s Sports Personality of the Year Award.
But he won’t win.
And in fairness, he wouldn’t have won whether or not he’d opened his mouth to impart his own brand of self-perceived “wisdom”—his comments have just brought proverbial nail and coffin together one final time. The real reason why Fury will not be collecting this particular sporting accolade is that several other candidates simply have better credentials.
Andy Murray, Lewis Hamilton and maybe Chris Froome will have their supporters, but my idea of the winner is Jessica Ennis-Hill; you know… “the runner”… or as I prefer to describe her: “the finest all-round female athlete on the planet”.
To win a world title in any multi-disciplinary athletic event is a staggering accomplishment, requiring dedication and determination and skills that are way beyond my imagination. Jessica had climbed that mountain twice before, claiming World Championship heptathlon gold in Berlin in 2009, before her golden success at London 2012, achieved despite the massive pressure of being the media-created “poster girl” of the first home Olympic Games since 1948.
To then be crowned World Champion once again, a little over a year after giving birth to her first child, takes her actual feat to a level that none of the other contenders can match. As well as being a supreme athlete, she comes across as a charming, engaging young woman and a brilliant ambassador for her sport…
I reckon that ticks all the boxes.
It’s great to see rugby league represented in the final twelve, and Kevin Sinfield’s presence amongst the nation’s sporting elite is a richly deserved accolade for a man who has served Leeds Rhinos, England and Great Britain with such courage and distinction. I would love to see him placed in the top three, although I would concede that contenders from sports with a higher national profile may be more popular with voters.
It’s just a shame that the individual and collective achievements of Jessica Ennis-Hill, Kevin Sinfield et al have almost been superseded by the crass remarks of a man who should arguably let his ability in the ring do all his talking for him.
As some of you will know it is a bit of a bugbear of mine that Fury’s camp seems intent on portraying the fighter as the new Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali, but claims that Tyson Fury “shook up the world” in defeating Wladimir Klitschko are way off the mark in my opinion. True it was a fine performance against a great, but ageing champion… but I really can’t see any valid comparison between the Klitschko of 2015, and the Sonny Liston that stepped through those ropes in February 1964.
Maybe Fury and his entourage think that being outspoken is in some way another similarity with “the Greatest”… well Ali’s wit was as fast as his feet and lightning fists, and he was genuinely funny to the point that you almost forgot he was often trying to get under the skin of an opponent. I’ve watched an awful lot of archive footage and can’t recall any remarks of the general and demeaning nature attributed to Tyson Fury. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again… comparisons are frankly pointless; there will only ever be one “Greatest”.
A few months short after Cassius Clay took Liston’s world title, British heptathlete Mary Rand was named the 1964 Sports Personality of the Year after her exploits during the Tokyo Olympics. She is rated by some as the finest all-round British athlete there has ever been, and perhaps it would be fitting if Jessica Ennis-Hill, surely the best of her generation, stepped up to receive the same award on Sunday....
It started out with a random idea back in January 2014 and ended yesterday over a cup of tea and at chat at the home of an Olympic gold medallist....
Over the intervening 23 months, I arranged and completed fifty-four separate challenges, all of which were undertaken in order to initially raise funds for the mental health charity Mind, and latterly to support the “Time to Change” programme the aim of which is to work towards ending mental health discrimination. I will endeavour to keep raising awareness into 2016 and beyond, but now feels like the right time to bring down the curtain on what has been a truly memorable adventure (notice how I craftily avoided using the word “journey”!).
I am not going to list each and every one of the tasks I set myself; suffice to say that in amongst the planning, the e-mails, and the hundreds of miles of driving, I have met some wonderful people, and enjoyed experiences that I will cherish for always—holding a snake and riding the rickety rollercoaster are not included in my definition of “enjoyable”.
I have done things I either didn’t think I’d get the chance to do, or didn’t believe I could or would do: viz. live stand-up comedy, (an attempt at) sparring with a pro boxer, getting a tattoo, going on stage to play a leg of darts against an international opponent (actually that ended up as opponents plural...), and so the list continues... all the way through to yesterday and a meeting with Ann Brightwell (née Packer), the lady responsible for my favourite ever moment in British sport.
The story behind Ann’s victory in the 800m at Tokyo in 1964 is fascinating... the race itself nothing short of remarkable, but to put the medal into context, British women have won just ten individual track and field golds in the whole history of the modern Olympic Games. Mary Rand, an incredibly gifted all-round athlete was the first; her long jump success coming just a few days before her room-mate’s triumph over two laps in Tokyo.
Just for the record, the full list will be given at the end of the blog, but to be not only be offered the chance to meet Ann (although we had spoken at length over the phone earlier in the year) but to be invited into her Cheshire home was something very special, and it was with a mixture of excitement and nerves that I made the trip across the M62... M60... A627... A34... etc....
In fairness, despite the weather, the journey was fine... except for a crack on my windscreen that emanated from a chip that must have happened fairly early on in proceedings. The crack grew to about six or seven inches in length but thankfully got no worse... there’ll be a call to Autoglass later today.
It was always going to be a slightly surreal moment when I knocked on the Brightwell’s front door, but after that initial meeting Ann and I sat in her kitchen and chatted away for something like an hour and a half and barely paused for breath. Ann’s husband Robbie (a medallist himself at the Tokyo games) popped in a few times... and I even had a chance to see their medals as well as wearing Ann’s 1964 Olympic 400m silver medal.
I had spoken with Elaine during the week and told her that I couldn’t think of a better way of bringing the challenges to an end than by spending time with someone for whom I have so much admiration... I hoped it would be the perfect end to an amazing couple of years and that’s exactly how it proved.
It was a pleasure and a privilege to meet Ann and Robbie, and I want to thank them, along with absolutely everyone who has helped and supported me over the months (especially my darling wife Elaine... I love you xx); I just hope that I’ve managed to make a small difference along the way....
British Women’s Olympic Track and Field Gold Medals
Mary Rand (Long Jump)
Ann Packer (800m)
Mary Peters (Pentathlon)
Tessa Sanderson (Javelin)
Sally Gunnell (400m Hurdles)
Denis Lewis (Heptathlon)
Kelly Holmes (800m & 1500m)
Christine Ohuruogu (400m)
Jessica Ennis (Heptathlon)
Whether or not this has been the greatest ever rugby union World Cup is a debate I will leave to the experts, but the quality of yesterday’s final is surely beyond any doubt.
It was a fitting climax to a tournament that witnessed one of the sport’s biggest ever shocks (courtesy of Japan’s victory over South Africa) as well a game that ended in controversy and recrimination as Scotland’s courageous effort against Australia resulted in heartbreaking defeat. The competition wasn’t affected by the early demise of the hosts, and despite the sterling efforts of the other home nations, all northern hemisphere involvement had ended by the semi-final stage.
Notwithstanding the manner of the Wallabies’ win against Scotland, I think the best two teams contested the final, and the New Zealand All Blacks produced a performance befitting the biggest match the sport has to offer, and were rightfully crowned world champions for an unprecedented third time.
The eighty minutes were every bit as physical and brutal as would have been expected, but there was also plenty of sublime skill on offer, as well as some passages of play that were open enough to stand out in amongst all the defensive discipline on show.
The picture shows three of the sport’s true legends with the trophy: Dan Carter, Richie McCaw and Ma’a Nonu, and it was Nonu’s superbly-taken try that appeared to put the All Blacks out of sight at 21-3 early in the second half. The opportunity was created by a magnificent offload by Sonny Bill Williams, but the talismanic dual international’s most memorable contribution to the day’s proceedings was arguably still to come....
It takes two teams to make a great game and Australia produced a stunning ten minutes of rugby to score twice whilst holding a man advantage and reduce the gap to just four points. The destiny of the Webb Ellis Cup suddenly looked far from certain, but Carter’s nerveless left boot added a forty-metre drop goal and long-range penalty to ease New Zealand back into a two-score lead, before Beauden Barrett’s brilliant opportunist try offered the All Black fly half the chance to end his international career with a relatively straightforward kick, which he duly converted... right-footed.
As with any final, there is a stark contrast in emotion between the victors and the vanquished, but the genuine respect between the players of both sides was obvious to all those watching. New Zealand undoubtedly deserved their victory and the trophy was raised aloft by Richie McCaw, one of the finest (if not the finest) players the game has ever seen.
The celebrations included a haka, and a brilliant moment when a young fan ran onto the pitch to hug the aforementioned Sonny Bill. The kid was unceremoniously flattened by a security guard, but Williams took over the situation, embraced the youngster, posed for pictures then led the lad back to the stand... at which point he took off his medal and put it over the boy’s head.
Pure class from Sonny Bill Williams and a wonderful way to end a very special day.
Last night, I read a post by former rugby league player Francis Maloney, who played for a number of clubs during his career, but was a member of the Castleford Tigers squad for Super League IV in 1999, the year in which Gateshead Thunder took to the field for the first time.
It is clear that Francis has faced (and overcome) more than his fair share of adversity, and it was a very brave piece for the 42 year-old to write. Whilst scrolling through the comments, I spotted a message from Danny Fearon... not someone I know, but another former player whose name was instantly recognisable.
I was suddenly transported back fifteen years, to a game of rugby league between Halifax and Hull. On paper, that would not have been a game that I would have gone to watch, but circumstances in March 2000 were far from normal. Danny Fearon was in the Halifax seventeen that evening... it turned out to be a “memorable” evening for both me and for Danny but, as it turned out, for very different reasons.
Here is how I related the events of that Friday night in the second volume of my history of Gateshead Thunder’s early years and this article is posted with my best wishes being offered to both Messrs Maloney and Fearon.
The opening round of Super League V fixtures was surely going to be the moment when the loss of Gateshead Thunder would really hit home. Our players now wore the black and white of Hull FC, who had been boosted by a couple of huge, but relatively meaningless, Challenge Cup victories. Supporters were suddenly reappearing in numbers and it was rumoured that a massive contingent would be travelling to the New Shay for an intriguing clash with Halifax Blue Sox.
The game had been switched from the Sunday afternoon to the Friday evening, thereby reducing the number of Gateshead supporters able to make the journey to West Yorkshire, but a full coach and several carloads still ensured an eighty-strong presence at a ground where the original Thunder had suffered their worst defeat in 1999.
Mark Wightman had quashed fears of a protest, or backlash against Shane Richardson and Kath Hetherington, but the Thunder Storm Chairman was quick to admit that: “We’re going to West Yorkshire to show our support for the game of rugby league. It’ll be difficult to get behind Hull, but it will be nice to show our appreciation for the players who were magnificent for Gateshead Thunder last season.”
In the build-up to the game, Shane Richardson was quoted as saying: “It’s going to be a hard road ahead for the new club. It’s all about pounds and pence and getting enough punters through the gate. But I wish them well….
“A big piece of me has gone missing and I’m still sick to the stomach at what happened at Gateshead. It’ll be a night of mixed emotions when we play our first Super League game at Halifax Blue Sox on Friday, but the reality is it’s just another Rugby League match we’ve got to win.”
As we rumbled down the steep hill into the town, the main topic of conversation revolved around whether we should (or could) cheer on our former heroes, now they would be representing Hull FC, a club that didn’t exactly suffer from excessive popularity outside the west side of the city. Most (probably all) wanted the best for our players, yet the overwhelming majority were not thrilled at the prospect of Hull being successful. It was a difficult conundrum and one which, at that moment, I was unable to solve.
Bearing in mind the close rapport we had enjoyed with our team throughout the previous year, we wondered how we would be received by those same players, now they had acquired a new set of followers, much greater in number, much louder in victory... much less forgiving in defeat. I had spoken briefly with Adam Maher shortly after the move had been announced, but while the bulk of the squad were still training on Tyneside. I mentioned our concern that the new regime may force the players to ignore their former supporters, a view strongly rejected by the former Rochdale second row.
A few days before the game, Mark Wightman had contacted the West Yorkshire club to request that the Gateshead supporters be kept away from the end terrace where the Hull fans would be housed. It was important for the Halifax stewards to be aware that although the two clubs had theoretically “merged”, the same certainly did not apply to the supporters.
Save for a couple of stragglers that ended up next to the Hull contingent more by accident than design, the stewards did a thoroughly efficient job in directing the Thunder Army to the far end of the popular stand, just to the right of the bulk of the Blue Sox hardcore.
A firework display (of sorts) heralded the arrival of the players. Hull FC ran onto the field to be greeted by a tremendous ovation from the mass of supporters (as many as 2,000) gathered behind the posts. My stomach felt like it was being twisted in knots, as Brian Carney jogged towards the try line and returned the applause. The Blue Sox players then emerged from separate dressing rooms to our right and so intensely were my eyes trained on the ex-Thunder players, that I have no recollection of the welcome afforded to the home side.
Halifax would kick-off and the Hull thirteen began to drift down towards us. This was the moment. To the well-rehearsed strains of Thunder Wonderland we waited for the players to acknowledge our presence - just as they had to the Hull fans...
But it didn’t happen.
As the decibels increased, only three players (Matt Daylight, Dave Maiden and Craig Wilson) were able to manage an almost apologetic wave in return.
Rarely have I seen the mood of a group of people change so dramatically. A chorus of booing, a number of none-too-pleasant comments aimed at those players defending the touchline directly in front of us and one or two outbursts of language that (whilst out of character) reflected the heightened emotional state generated by these most unusual circumstances.
In that split second, I found the answer to the conundrum. Yes, I wanted the best for the ex-Thunder players, but if they were prepared to look the other way, after the kind of relationship that had been forged in the north east, then I was going to lend my voice to the Blue Sox. And I was far from alone.
Hull shaded the first half, but contrived to go in 12-8 behind at the break, thanks to two glaring defensive errors in a four-minute spell, which led to tries for Andrew Dunneman and Damien Gibson. Shortly after the interval, the Blue Sox had an inspired ten minutes, during which they ripped through the Hull defence for three further scores (Marns, Florimo and Pearson) and it was our turn to sing a song or two at the expense of the now silent travelling supporters.
The Halifax crowd warmed to the eighty-strong chorus of “you only sing when you’re fishing” and “you only win when you’re Gateshead” and responded with “there’s only one Gateshead Blue Sox”. The game looked all but over and surely only the most cynical would have predicted a dramatic fightback...
Which was, of course, exactly what happened. Brian Carney crossed twice in three minutes to complete an awesome hat-trick; Wayne McDonald, almost unstoppable from close-range, powered over and with Ben Sammut kicking absolutely everything, the scores were tied at 26-26 with only a handful of minutes left on the clock. The Hull fans had turned up the volume and they looked set to celebrate a stirring victory when Craig Wilson popped over a field goal. As if things weren’t already bad enough for the Blue Sox, Danny Fearon then sustained an horrific leg injury and there was a considerable delay whilst the youngster was stretchered from the field. With barely any time remaining, Halifax launched one last desperate push downfield.
“Cliché Man” would probably have described the evening’s events as a “roller coaster of emotions”, although a “see-saw” might be a better analogy as feelings had fluctuated from spine-tingling highs to sense-numbing lows ever since we’d stepped off the coach.
By now, we were standing right in the middle of a pretty deep trough, as Hull looked sure to snatch victory by the narrowest of margins. However, as we peered through the gathering gloom towards the far corner of the ground, the home side’s final assault was rewarded when former Wigan stand-off Greg Florimo went over for the winning try. From our vantage point, it was impossible to distinguish those players involved in the scoring move, or who had eventually crossed the line. Frankly, we didn’t care, as the award of the four points provided the catalyst for some truly amazing scenes as the Hull end of the see-saw plummeted to earth.
Losing in such a dramatic fashion must have been extremely hard to accept and several members of the Hull side hastily made for the sanctuary of the dressing rooms. To their great credit, a few of those who had graced the Thunderdome during 1999 (Matt, Dave, Craig Wilson, Steve Collins and assistant coach Tony Anderson) came to say their farewells... which were hugely appreciated.
Strolling back to the coach, ignoring the occasional taunt from Hull fans leaving the car park, I tried to make some sense of Friday 3 March 2000. We had celebrated a remarkable win for Halifax Blue Sox against a team that was essentially Gateshead Thunder. We had been warmly applauded by the Halifax players, acknowledged to a degree by some of the Hull side, yet what did we have at the end of the night?
Apart from fading memories of a brilliant year in Super League and vivid images of those surreal few hours in West Yorkshire, the answer was precious little. We still faced the prospect of a long battle to get a new team and the state of euphoria that had greeted Greg Florimo’s try suddenly seemed no more than a distant dream. It was a sobering moment....
I’ve never been one to let a bandwagon rumble past without clambering aboard, so today’s blog concerns Scotland’s epic Rugby World Cup quarter final with Australia.
Plenty has already been said and written about the decision made by referee Craig Joubert to award a penalty in the game’s closing moments, which Bernard Foley coolly converted to secure a one-point victory for the Wallabies.
By now I think it’s pretty much accepted that it was the wrong call, and the timing and importance of the blunder has only increased the media focus on the South African, who certainly didn’t help his cause by haring for the exit as soon as he had whistled for full time.
Perhaps he had realised (courtesy of the big screen) what the Scots already knew; the ball had touched an Australian arm in between being knocked forward and collected. Without Nick Phipps’ intervention, the penalty would have been the correct decision... clearly there is now a big “but”....
All the talk around referring the incident to the television match official (TMO) is moot because the rules don’t allow for such situations to be reviewed; the mistake had been made and Joubert should have showed more dignity, respect for the Scots and for the game by staying on the field and shaking both sets of players by the hand.
The moment is likely to define Joubert’s career which, in some respects, is a shame because you don’t get to take charge of a World Cup Final (which he did in 2011) by being incompetent. In fact, earlier in the game Joubert picked up the smallest of knock-ons by Will Genia in the lead up to a subsequently disallowed “try” by Adam Ashley-Cooper. It was a great spot, but one which only makes the later miss that much harder to accept.
To a degree, the events of those closing two minutes have distracted from what looked a harsh yellow card shown to Sean Maitland for a “deliberate” knock-on that was always going to look worse in slow motion. And then there was a non-referral to the TMO for a late hit on Stuart Hogg which would have inevitably have led to a Scottish penalty... and from there, who knows?
Whilst on the subject of “what ifs”, I’m sure that given another line-out towards the end of such a massive game, with rain pouring from the heavens, the ball would have been thrown short... cue a second big “but”....
The bare facts are that Australia have advanced to the semi-final and Scotland have bowed out of the tournament. The final pages of the story of the World Cup are still to be written, but whoever lifts the trophy on 31 October, the competition will hopefully also be remembered not for a refereeing howler, but for a performance of remarkable and inspiring courage from the proud men of Scotland.
It’s been a brilliant few days for British sport... well unless you happen to be English I suppose!
I am extremely patriotic; I’m proud to be English, but I am equally proud to be British and follow the fortunes of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in pretty much any and every international sport – something that applies to the Republic of Ireland as well. I particularly love watching the players as they sing their national anthem, and seeing just what it means for elite sportsmen and women to represent their country.
The little photo collage highlights Scotland’s progress into the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals, the qualification of Wales and Northern Ireland for Euro 2016 – the first in a major competition for both countries since 1958 and 1982 respectively - and the Republic’s stunning victory over Germany, a result that sets up Martin O’Neill’s side for today’s crucial game with Poland.
As for England, well our rugby side exited the World Cup with barely a whimper and the footballers overcame the might of Estonia in a fairly drab encounter at Wembley. In doing so England preserved their 100% record in the qualifying group, and given that only five other teams have ever achieved that throughout a full European Championship programme, it is a pretty impressive record. Less impressive is the fact that England haven’t set the world (or Europe for that matter) alight when it comes to tournament finals... and of the other five countries to qualify with an unblemished record, only one made it to the final (Spain in 2012). For now though you can do no more than top your group, and we’ll just have to wait and see what happens in France next year.
I would not single out any of the events or achievements of these past few days as being more notable than another, but in the week of World Mental Health Day, I want to remember Gary Speed, the former Wales manager, who made such a positive difference to Welsh football before his untimely and tragic passing in 2011.
It was Gary’s death that prompted me to talk openly about my own experiences with what was diagnosed as depression, but I now know is more specifically dysthymia; and in duly acknowledging the fine on-field performances of all those British and Irish teams this week, I want to close by simply saluting the memory and the bravery of Gary Speed.
Last night I paid my first visit to the new Middlesbrough Sports Village to complete my latest “Time to Change” challenge—the fifty-first since the start of 2014… how long ago does that seem?!
Despite still being in some discomfort from my badminton lesson at the hands of England international Rhys Walker nearly three weeks ago (muscles don’t heal all that quickly at my age… hang on… muscles?!!!), I was going to put the old body through its paces one more—or perhaps that should read “one last”—time, with the badminton court now being replaced by one of the netball variety.
The venue will be hosting Grangetown Netball Club’s home fixtures in National Premier League 2, which gets underway this Sunday, and I have to say the facilities look superb. When I arrived, the girls were just about to start a full practice match, and I settled down to watch… and hopefully learn.
As many of you know, I started following netball through watching my younger daughter, who played club and county age group netball during her mid-teens. She lives (and plays) in Edinburgh now, but I have been really fortunate that Grangetown have welcomed me into their club, and allowed me to write a few reports, interviews and articles on behalf of their Prem squad.
It is a fantastic, friendly club, which offers opportunities for players of all ages and abilities. The Prem squad comprises some of the finest local netballers, and will be further strengthened by a number of current internationals during the season. The standard is extremely high—as you would expect from a club effectively ranked in the top fifteen in the country—and the club lacks nothing in belief and ambition, both on and off the court.
Their strong community focus was perhaps highlighted by a willingness to allow me to spend ten minutes on court, despite the seriousness of the preparations that had preceded my somewhat incongruous appearance alongside club captain Vicky Rees at the heart of the defence…
Last year, I had a go at shooting, but found that the ball was too big and the net way too small (and too high up). Clearly all that has changed during the intervening twelve months because shots were finding the target with almost ridiculous regularity, mainly courtesy of young Tasha Grylls, who was scoring pretty much at will from pretty much anywhere inside the shooting circle…
At least I had the decency to make the game look difficult!
Within the opening minute I managed to collide with the post. In my defence I was trying to keep track of my shooter… I failed. It hurt.
It was great to witness at first hand the pace at which the game is played, the quality of movement, awareness, and the athleticism of everyone on court—with one elderly portly exception. I did wear Grangetown colours in an attempt to look the part, and even managed to make a couple of interceptions (more by luck than judgement I hasten to add); but if I was to summarise my “performance” in one word, it would be “clumsy”—although one other adjective beginning with “c” was under serious consideration.
The final whistle not only brought down the curtain on my netball “career” (amid huge sighs of relief from team mates and opponents alike); but on participation in sport in general. It’s now almost a decade since I was told that I’d need hip replacement surgery within “two to fifteen years” depending on how much sport I chose to play. Over the past few months I’ve bowled at a test cricketer, sparred with an unbeaten pro boxer, played badminton against an England international and had a go at netball… I think I should probably quit while I’m at least marginally ahead—but I do want to say a massive thank you to Head Coach Gel Williams and all the girls at the club, not just for last night, but also for making me feel part of the “Grangetown family”…
Finally, at the risk of sounding like a stuck record, I undertook this challenge (as well as the preceding fifty) to raise awareness of mental health issues: the fact that it is fine to talk… and the fact that help is there if you can find the strength to ask for it. As far as challenging the stigma of mental health is concerned, it’s is very much “Time to Change”—but from the point of view of me and netball… it’s definitely “Time to Retire”!
I’ve spent a lovely day today with my wife Elaine and my parents Anna and David, taking Dad back to his home town, Darlington. One port of call was Feethams, home of Darlington Cricket Club, where he had played in the 1950s before progressing into the Durham minor counties side, earning a Cambridge University “Blue”, and finally becoming Leicestershire County Cricket Club captain in 1962.
It was Dad’s first visit to Feethams in well over half a century, and although there have been plenty of changes, you could sense the memories were starting to flood back as he stepped onto the outfield.
Later in the day, we were chatting about cricketing times gone by; in particular a game played between Cambridge University and Leicestershire in July 1961.
Although Dad had already represented Leicestershire, he was skippering the University in this fixture, which was played at Loughborough.
The county won the toss, batted first and made 283, with opening batsman (and captain) Maurice Hallam top-scoring with 115. Dad came on first change (as you could when you were skipper...) and took 5-76, his career-best figures and only first-class five-wicket haul.
As you will soon see, however, the bowling honours were destined to belong to one of his team mates....
The University replied with 337-5 declared. Eddie Craig made 101 and Tony Goodfellow 81, the openers sharing a stand of 185.
It was uncommon for a first-class county to lose to university opposition, but at 154-9 in their second innings, the Foxes were in very real trouble. Their last man was Brian Boshier, whose reputation with the bat was such that the Grace Road groundsman would regularly start up his tractor as the tall medium-pacer strode out to the wicket.
What made the situation even more noteworthy was that the Cambridge opening bowler, Tony Pearson, had taken all nine wickets and the right-arm quickie was just one victim away from a rare and remarkable feat. Leicestershire obviously didn’t want to lose, but Dad knew only too well that they would want to avoid being on the wrong end of a “ten-for” at all costs.
He therefore brought himself onto bowl...
The first five deliveries were aimed well outside the off and leg stumps; wide enough to be essentially unplayable, but not wide enough to interest the umpire. However Boshier connected with the last ball of the over, and sent it sailing high towards mid-off....
The fielders all had clear instructions... catch nothing; but as the ball slipped through mid-off’s fingers, it started rolling towards the stumps. Boshier had perhaps unwisely started to run a single, but was hardly sprinting to make his ground as the ball continued rolling....
Eventually, the ball trickled past the stumps... Pearson handed the umpire his jumper (metaphorically, I have no idea what the weather was like)... and Boshier (career batting average 4.32) was on strike. Just three balls later, Leicestershire were all out (for 160), as Michael Willard claimed the catch to give Pearson figures of 10-78 from 30.3 overs.
At the time it was the joint 48th best analysis in the history of the game; fifty-four years later it is still ranked joint 60th. Unsurprisingly it was, and would remain, Pearson’s best-ever bowling figures, but it is interesting that he had never taken five wickets in a first-class innings before that extraordinary day.
Cambridge University, whose line-up included two future England captains in Tony Lewis and Mike Brearley, comfortably reached their victory target for the loss of four wickets, with Eddie Craig smashing an unbeaten 80 out of a final total of 109-4....
Time moves on I suppose, but it’s great that the memories remain... today has been a very good day!
As a postscript, here is Dad leading out the Cambridge side to face the Australian tourists at Fenners in 1961. He is flanked by Tony Lewis (left) and the tall figure of Richard Jefferson to the right. Jefferson (whose son Will also became a first-class cricketer) was a quick bowler capable of using his height to extract bounce from even the most placid of pitches. On one occasion, whilst bowling at Lord's, Jefferson produced a delivery that hit the famous ridge and flew at the batsman, hitting him in the face and dislodging a couple of teeth.
The batsman? In my Dad's eyes the best cricketer ever to have played the game... Sir Garry Sobers.