Euro 2016 Preview and Predictions

Tags

, , , ,

I’m going to cut straight to the point…
I think France will be lifting the trophy come the end of Euro 2016. Not only because it’s on their own turf, but due to the ridiculous wealth of genuine footballing talent at the top end of the pitch mixed with the experienced professors of the game at the back.

They showed exactly this in last night’s opening battle against a dogged Romania, when they were able to leave out footballing geniuses in Martial, Coman and Cabaye whilst still able to name a starting XI featuring Payet, Pogba and Griezmann. Not to mention the likes of Lacazette and Benzema who didn’t even make the squad.

Wow.

And then they have their Professors of Football at the back. Hugo Lloris – the French captain and one of the best ‘keepers in the world. Patrice Evra – consistently been there and done it at the very highest level for United and Juventus. Koscielny – one of the most underrated CBs in the Premier League. Again, this is without Varane and Sakho who would probably have been the starting duo had they made the final 23.

They say it’s the squad that wins a major tournament. I don’t really agree with this as I think it’s probably only 14 or 15 players that do – not the entire 23 – but when you look at the home nation’s squad, the mind boggles.

This isn’t to say England aren’t in with a shout.

In fact, I honestly think that we will bounce back from the utter embarrassment of the 2014 World Cup, where we failed to get out of the initial group stages, by reaching the semi-finals this time round. Who knows, maybe even beyond…

It’s only our own pessimism as English fans that’s holding us back from believing in something that could be really special. We’ve gone through a stellar qualifying campaign of 10 wins out of 10, 30+ goals scored and only 3 conceded. Being the negative and reluctant fans that is English are, many were quick to shoot down this accomplishment by stating we only played lesser opposition in the group.

Well, how do you overcome this?

How about by beating teams such as France, Germany and Portugal in the post-qualification friendlies? That’s exactly what England did, as well as victories against Turkey and Australia, with only a minor blip against the Dutch tarnishing a near-perfect post-World Cup record.

If any other team had posted the string of results that England has, not to mention boasting two in-form strikers who have scored 49 goals between them this season (unfortunately we can’t all have a Cristiano Ronaldo who scores that many on his own), then we’d be sitting back thinking ‘F*** me, they’re good’.

So why dare to dream?

I like Roy’s squad. Actually, scrap that. I love it. People who are moaning about the lack of defensive cover need to get over it. Dier can play CB, Milner can play RB, full backs can play either side. We will be fine. Earlier I spoke about the talent in the French squad in attack, but England aren’t without their own Footballing Masters. Wilshere is one of the most technically-gifted players England has produced in the past decade. On his day, Sterling can get any defender falling on their arse. Rooney can pick a pass from one end of the pitch to the over – not forgetting he’s scored over 50 international goals. We’ve got a great chance.

The best of the rest?

Germany and Spain are hard to look past when contemplating who will join the French and the English in the semi-final line-up. Neither of the aforementioned are in the scintillating form that England are in, but write them off at your peril. Even without Reus in the squad, Germany are the current World Champions and have had the the nucleus of that squad together for several years now. Then there’s Spain who couldn’t find room for Mata or Costa in their 23, and although losing to Georgia last time out, they will be right on it come their first game.

Btw, what a team you could make from those players missing out!

Ignoring these four favourites, you come to Portugal, Italy and Belgium who all boast some wonderful footballers, but I can’t see them causing too many problems. Ronaldo makes Portugal a very dangerous team, and when there’s someone as gifted as Moutinho supplying him, they will be a threat. This is probably one of the weakest Italy squads in a long time and although they’re going through a transition period having lost the likes of Pirlo, having 4 of Juventus’ defence in the starting line-up will certainly make them a hard team to beat. Finally we come to Belgium. Some unreal talent in Hazard, De Bruyne and Witsel, but they haven’t found a way of gelling as a unit.

So there you have it, my Euro 2016 preview and predictions. France to win. England, Spain and Germany to make up the semi-final line-up. As for the rest of the British teams: only Wales have a chance of getting out of their group but they’re very much a one-man band.
All that’s left for me to say is to encourage you to be more optimistic, support the boys throughout and enjoy the footie.

Three lions on the shirt…..

Battle of the sexes

Tags

, , , , ,

Whether you like or dislike certain sports, or are good or bad at others (and there is probably a correlation between the two), there’s no denying that sport plays a huge part in modern society. It offers role models to look up to and emulate, provides opportunities for people to remain active, and is seen as a major social hub.

But for all of the positives surrounding sport and what it can do for a person, there are some overwhelming negatives associated too. One which seems to crop up across various sports is match fixing – deliberately effecting the outcome of a match. Drug scandals rear their ugly heads on an all too often basis, with Sharapova the latest high-profile athlete to be caught out. But standing alongside these is a very relevant topic:

Gender equality in sport

I’m an avid golfer and have worked in the industry since graduating from university, but recent events have cast an ugly shadow over the struggling game. For those of you who weren’t aware, Muirfield – an all-male club – recently voted against allowing women to join as members. A two-thirds majority was needed and they came up just short at 61%. Shameful. It’s important to stress that Muirfield isn’t a traditional golf club. It seems to me, at least from the outside, that this is more of an affluent private members drinking club which happens to have a wonderful golf course attached. I don’t think the members who voted against allowing women to join did so because they didn’t want them on their course. I think they did so because these arrogant, chauvinistic and lonely men didn’t want women to join their private social club. And it is for this reason that the Muirfield committee didn’t allow overseas members to vote – they knew that things would have turned out differently.

Not that this changes things one bit

This story made national headlines which isn’t surprising really, but it creates problems for the sport. Many naive people who don’t play golf will read about Muirfield’s gender discrimination and let this shape their views. Whereas in reality, golf is one of the best sports for gender equality at amateur level – coaching available for both, gender-specific equipment, same courses used, similar dress codes, etc. But this will go unnoticed due to Muirfield’s incompetence do to the right thing.

But what about other sports? 

It’s at this point that I’d like to stress my position on gender equality in sport. I believe that if a person (regardless of gender) has the ability to succeed in a sport then he or she should be given that chance. However, we can’t start putting women in men’s events, and vice versa, if their ability isn’t at the same level as their competitors. It will only be unfair on the person who is thrown in the deep end, as they’re not going to flourish if they don’t have the ability to do so.

It’s happened before – Michelle Wie was one of the most promising and gifted female golfers in the noughties, turning professional at the age of 16. But before she had even spent time on the ladies scene, let alone conquer it, she started to compete in men’s events through sponsor invites. Unfortunately this was the start of a negative spiral for the talented American, as after numerous missed cuts (not proceeding past the half-way stage) on the men’s tour, her golf fell apart and she was struggling to fulfil her promise.

But like I said before, if the ability levels are matched then I am all-for women and men competing together. This already happens in some sports, such as horse racing, equestrian and snooker. I applaud the way cricket, tennis and athletics go about it. Although men and women don’t compete together (ignoring mixed events in this instance), they share the same stage in World Cups, Grand Slams and the Olympics. This mean’s that coverage of these sports is enhanced, whilst the athletes get to perform on the biggest arenas in front of mass spectators.

This is where it starts to get tricky….

The most controversial topic is to do with prize money. Men are financially rewarded more than women in 30% of sports, there’s no arguing that – it’s a fact. However, it’s important to understand where prize money comes from. Many people – and unfortunately it is those who are less educated on this specific matter – seem to think there is a general pool of prize money for each sport which is unfairly split between men and women. This isn’t the case. Prize money mainly comes from sponsors and TV. Now, sponsors aren’t going to offer the same prize fund for both if the global reach isn’t there and you’d be deluded to think they would. Likewise with TV money, the TV coverage won’t be the same if the demand from the watching public isn’t there. There’s no getting around these matters.

The average home attendance in 2015 for the Women’s Super League (1,026) vs the men’s Premier League (36,226).

25.4 million TV viewers watch the 2015 Women’s World Cup final whereas around 1 billion tuned in for the Men’s World Cup final in 2014. 

These sort of figures demonstrate why men get paid so much more than women in football, the global reach of men’s football is astounding. It’s not surprising the victorious men’s team took home around $35 million whereas the women’s equivalent received $2 million. Having said this, I do think there is far too much money in men’s football – is there really any need to be paid £300,000+ a week no matter how good you are?

Now as I hope is clear from what I’ve written so far, I am very keen for gender equality in sport – as long as it’s fair on everyone. Which brings me on to tennis. Tennis is at the other end of the spectrum to football, as women and men have been paid the same amount in the four Grand Slam tournaments since 2007. There’s been so much debate regarding this subject, with many claiming that men play best-of-five sets whereas women play best-of-three. Yes that’s true and I accept that point – I used to think the same until I sat down and thought about it. I pose this question to you:

Since when have athletes been paid by the hour?

You can’t expect Usain Bolt (100m runner in 9-10 seconds) to be paid 1/1366ths of what the 2016 London Marathon winner (123 minutes) received due to the disparity in performance times. Yes this is extreme, but why does it matter if women tennis players get paid the same for playing a little-while less than their male counterparts – not forgetting sometimes their matches outlast men’s?

Going back to my previous point, the global reach and TV coverage of women’s tennis is huge and so I do think it’s fair that they get paid the same. On the other side of the coin, women’s football is nowhere near the stature or entertainment of the men’s game, meaning the TV coverage isn’t there and so I don’t think they should get paid the same.

Gender equality in sport is something that we should all strive for. But it’s important to look at each sport on a local level rather than trying to globalise all sports into one. If we reduce the disparity within each sport (and this doesn’t mean paying both sexes the same), then we will paint a much brighter picture.

And breathe…

 

 

 

 

What to make of Woy’s England squad…

Tags

, , , ,

Ok, I will put my hands up. I am one of THOSE fans. You know the ones – the closer a major tournament gets, the more optimistic I become that we are going to compete on the biggest stage, only to be let down by an inevitably s*** first-round elimination.

I can’t help it. But this time will be different.

We’ve gone through a stellar qualifying campaign, unbeaten and looking dangerous. I know there’ll be some of you who say ‘we only played dire teams’ – yes we did douchebag, but that’s something called ‘seeding’ and when you’re one of the top-ranked countries in Europe that is going to happen. I forgot Germany and Spain played each of the world’s top 10 in their qualifying campaigns. You can only beat the opposition put out in front of you – something which England did better than any other European nation.

Rant over. Time to move on….

So Woy named his 26-man squad yesterday lunchtime, with three names set to be axed after the bout of upcoming friendlies. It was pretty much as expected, only the inclusion of Rashford came as a surprise – but he’ll most-likely be one of the aforementioned three to be dropped come the final squad, along with Delph and Drinkwater.

englands-squad-was-named-at-wembley-on-monday

England Squad

What’s so good about this squad?

I think there’s a fantastic blend of youthful talent and highly experienced players. Think Stones, Dier and Alli vs Cahill, Milner and Rooney. Then you’ve got the likes of Vardy and Kane who are bang in-form this season – 49 Premier League goals between them. A mouth-watering prospect awaits. In-fact, this is the youngest England squad in over 10 years

Roy has clearly chosen a squad in which he trusts (Wilshere, Henderson, Rooney) but one that has the potential to develop into something great down the line (Smalling, Alli, Rashford). I am a firm believer that we should always have a nucleus of a squad which remains consistent with one eye on the future, with other players dropping in and out based on form.

That brings me nicely onto Townsend. Now I am the first to say Townsend is a one-dimensional, one-footed, one-trick pony. I really dislike him as a player, he just does the same thing over and over again – get the ball on the right touchline, a little dummy, brings it inside on his left foot, shoots from outside the box. It is so predictable, yet defenders often struggle against him. But after saying all of that, he is another one who has found form at the best possible time for him and for England, just as Hazard has for Belgium.

I agree with Roy

In my eyes, if Welbeck was fit then Townsend wouldn’t have made the squad. But based on Welbeck being ruled out through injury and the lack of form shown by others in his position (Walcott, Sterling and co), Townsend was rightly called up. There’s no way Walcott could go when he’s done absolutely nothing in recent times. Yes the likes of Henderson and Wilshere have been injured and only recently returned to full fitness, but they’re starting XI contenders – not bench warmers like Walcott would have been.

Forget that the likes of Noble and Defoe didn’t make it too, they wouldn’t have had a single minute of game time anyway. Noble isn’t going to get into the centre of midfield ahead of Dier, Wilshere, Henderson, Barkley, Alli and co. And the same can be said of Defoe – regardless of whether Hodgson started Vardy or Sturridge beside Kane, the left out party would always be first choice off the bench.

But, can we do it?

Yes. You look back to how we played against Germany in the spring and it goes to show that we can mix it with the big boys. We are one of the big boys. But that doesn’t alter my pre-tournament prediction: France to win, England to make the semis. All that’s left is for us to get behind the boys come June.

Oh, and thanks for asking. My starting 11 would be:

(4-1-2-1-2) Hart; Clyne, Smalling, Cahill, Rose; Dier; Wilshere, Alli; Rooney (C); Sturridge, Kane.

Should Tiger return?

Tags

, , , , ,

You want to see the world’s elite compete at the highest level in every sport, but there will always come a time when said sportspeople can no longer reach the extraordinary standards they once set themselves.

But what do you do when this happens?

Tiger Woods is undoubtedly one of the best golfers of all time. He took the sport to a different stratosphere in terms of raw power, athleticism and shot-making. In his prime he was not only the best golfer (and by some way), but he was also the best putter, the most athletic and the grand entertainer of the day. He single-handedly grew the game. He was the reason thousands of people flocked to events across the globe, or turned on the TV to watch golf – let’s face it, it isn’t the most thrilling sport to watch for the neutral.

image

He put golf on the map.

And he still has that aura around him today, despite being away from the top of the game for several years. For me, Tiger’s decline started with the unraveling of his private affairs, followed by the numerous injuries he’s suffered since. He’s tried returning countless times since, each time with so much hype that every shot he hit was scrutinised emphatically.

He stood no chance of succeeding under that sort of pressure.

Every swing analysed by thousands of wannabe Butch Harmons, each person having their own take on why the swing wasn’t right. I can’t sit here and lie, the harsh reality is that he is miles off the Tiger from the ‘noughties’. It’s no surprise really when you consider the seriousness of his injuries – when power is such a key part to his game, how could he ever swing with full commitment and confidence again?

So what happens now?

Whenever a true great starts to fade away, the next generation rises to the top. Golf is in great hands with Spieth, McIlroy, Day and co. Whether any of them could match Tiger at his best is a question that I don’t think we’ll ever know the answer to. So if he does return, what will happen?

There’s only 3 possible outcomes:

  1. He returns, stays injury-free and gets back to his glittering best
  2. He returns, stays injury-free and becomes a journeyman – going from event to event without doing anything notable (think David Howell and Boo Weekley)
  3. He returns, gets injured again and repeats the process

In my eyes, the first option isn’t going to happen which will leave the other two, less desirable, outcomes. Yes, having Tiger back on tour would be exciting, but that would very quickly wear off if he is missing cut after cut, with the odd top-30 finish thrown in for good measure.

I would hate to see Tiger come back and fail once again.

And this is my fear. I want Tiger’s legacy to stand, to not become tainted due to a poor final-stretch of his career. Maybe it’s time for Tiger to put his clubs away and realise…

Enough is enough.

The Story of 2015/16

Tags

, , , , ,

I recently overheard a conversation at a football match where fans were arguing about the story of the 2015/16 season. In the end they all agreed that Leicester’s fairytale can’t be beaten, but I have to disagree.

Whilst taking nothing away from The Foxes’ achievements this season – especially if they go on to win the title – I’m just a bit underwhelmed by the Premier League. None of the big boys achieved anything like they should, apart from Arsenal’s post-winter collapse to secure another season without winning the title. Well done, lads!

The standard of football in the league is, in my opinion, at an all-time low. It makes me laugh when I hear people bang on about the Premier League being the best league in the world. It really isn’t. I agree that it is the most competitive, but how does that make it the best? The technical ability is just awful in comparison to La Liga or Bundesliga. You have teams playing at home with 11 men behind the wall, just parking the bus. Give me end-to-end Championship football all day long.

And this is where I disagree about the story of the season….

Up step Deli Alli. I’ve been a fan of Alli’s since seeing him play against Brentford in League 1. However I will be honest: Although he impressed me, he did so no more than the likes of Ryan Woods, Jack Grealish or Alex Pritchard did that season. But his rise has been meteoric.

I was scared for him when he got his move to Spurs, telling my MK Dons mate that he would have to be loaned out to a Championship team this season or risk doing a Nick Powell – how wrong was I?! So often we see lower league talent get snapped up by the Premier League teams just to rot away in the U21 when they’d benefit far more from playing league football. And this was my fear for Alli.

As far as teams go, Spurs is probably the best he could have gone to – along with Southampton – for player development. If you don’t agree then this stat will make you think twice:

Spurs players have won 4 of the last 5 young player of the year awards. 


It’s great to see Alli be given such a chance as his quality has improved game-in game-out. Not only is he one of the first players on the Spurs team sheet, but he is almost a guaranteed starter for Woy at this summer’s Euros. For me, he’s going to win player of the tournament – he really is that good.

All this begs the question:

Should we be giving lower-league talent more of a chance?

The answer is undoubtedly yes, but I don’t think it will ever happen. The big clubs will continue to saturate their academies will foreign talent, which is only a good thing for us lower league fans as we get to see these young gems flourish under the radar.

Golf’s tainted reputation

Tags

, , , ,

For all you non-golfers out there, what’s the first thing you think of when I mention golf?

‘Old man’s sport’
‘It’s just hitting a ball in a field’
‘It’s only for the rich’
‘Boring – snoooooooze’

I’ve heard them all, especially back at school. It’s hard enough to convince people that golf is in-fact one of the most technical and toughest sports to play; it’s only when you get them to have a go that they see how hard it is first-hand.

Golf’s reputation goes through peaks and troughs

Tiger Woods’ dominance at the turn of the millennium definitely gave some much-needed impetus to the sport with many people taking to the game due to him alone. EA Sports released a game in his name whilst Nike and Gillette were using him as one of their main ambassadors, along with Roger Federer and Thierry Henry. Awesome for the sport.

tiger

Federer, Henry and Woods in a Gillette commercial

But then there’s the other side of the coin

The golf scene in Asia has taken a massive boom in recent years, with 11 of the top 20 lady golfers in the world being from Asia. This really is great for the game, however I was shocked to learn that golf had been made a crime for certain people in China. Since October, the Chinese President had banned all Communist Party members from joining golf clubs as they were seen as an ideal place for high-up people to discuss suspect deals. But China has even more history with golf – in 1949 the then Chairman declared a nationwide ban on people playing golf which was only lifted in the 1980s.

How can playing a sport be considered a crime?

There was even more bad press for the sport at the turn of the year, surrounding proposals for one of the UK’s most famous courses, Wentworth. Their nouveaux riche Chinese owners decided they were going to cut membership numbers down from 4,000 to 800 as well as charging them a one-off fee of up to £125,000! Understandably the members were threatening an exodus until plans were eventually scrapped after a few months.

wentworth

Wentworth Club, Surrey

Stories like these simply don’t help a struggling sport attract new players to the game. Living in an age of social media and technology, the above story rapidly hit the headlines regardless of whether you were an avid golfer or didn’t give a s*** – biasing views every second it was out there. Golf is facing an uphill battle to get new people playing as it is, with many people simply not having the time (4 hours to play a round of golf) and money to give it a go – even those currently playing are finding it a bit of a stretch.

Well there’s got to be some way of improving golf’s reputation

Yes, there is. The European Tour have been doing some great work recently with some of the stars in the world of golf. Only last week they released a video of players trying to break a world record for the ‘fastest hole of golf’. This is brilliant (you can view it here) whilst demonstrating the athletic and technical side of the game.

There is one thing that worries me though….

Golf makes its debut in the Olympics this summer at Rio, giving it a huge platform to entice a new generation into the sport. However, so many of the world’s best have already ruled themselves out (Louis Oosthuizen the latest), who will be left to play? But that’s not the worrying point; non-golfers aren’t going to sit in-front of their TV for four hours throughout the games to watch a slow-paced sport whilst the likes of 100M sprints and track cycling is on. This was golf’s chance to re-invent itself for the masses – make itself fast-paced, shorter and more entertaining to capture people’s attention – but sadly it looks destined to disappoint on the biggest stage of all…

What good can come from an injury?

Tags

, , , , , , ,

I hate seeing players get injured. Whether it’s the innocuous ‘pulled hammy’ or a broken leg, it’s a person’s career that goes on standstill for the foreseeable.

But can good come from this?

I’m not talking about the player themselves – many do come back fitter and stronger (unless you’re an Abou Diaby of this world) – but rather the team. Two injuries have happened in recent times which have inspired me to write this post:

 

1. Wayne Rooney – Man Utd’s captain had scored seven goals in nine games before a knee injury curtailed his season in February. I’m a big Rooney fan, I’m not going to deny that. He’s been world class for United and England throughout his career, and he has to go to the Euros this summer. But during his recent injury, England had a couple of games: one against the world champions, Germany, and the other against the Dutch. His absence gave others a chance, and boy did they take it. Alli was immense, a true rising star of the English game, and Barkley is having a great season too – not to mention the emergence of Rashford at United in this time.

But can you drop Rooney?

wayne rooney

Wayne Rooney

This probably is the wrong question as it doesn’t matter what we would do, the only man that matters is Roy Hodgson. So: Will Roy drop Rooney? I don’t see Rooney playing as the number nine for England again – not with the likes of Kane and Sturridge fully fit (watch this space for Andre Gray next season btw) – but instead as a number 10 behind the main striker. The problem is, we are spoilt for choice when it comes to a playmaker in this position; think Alli, Barkley, Lallana to name but a few. So when you throw Rooney into the mix, it’s going to be a really tough call for Roy to make in the summer.

 

2. Alan Judge – Some of you may not know much about Judgey. He’s been part of the successful Brentford team over the past few seasons; helping us rise from League One to being our talisman this season.

What a stellar season he’s been having.

alan judgeWith one month to go in the season, he’s the highest scoring midfielder in the Championship and has the most assists in the league. Not bad in a struggling team who have lost their entire starting midfield and attack from the previous year, bar him. His performances haven’t gone unnoticed either: forcing his way into the RoI squad ahead of the Euros as well as been shortlisted for the POTY award (along with Andre Gray who left Brentford in August). But when everything was looking so bright for the ‘Irish Messi’, he suffers a double-fracture to his lower leg 3 minutes into a game vs Ipswich. But it is at this time, when your pivotal star player is on the sidelines, that others shine. Instead of looking up to find Judgey, the Brentford players started playing more as a team – a 3-1 win followed.

 

Both of these players are virtually ‘untouchable’ when it comes to their place in the side, so we would normally have no gauge to predict how the team would fare without them in. It’s easy for the ‘die-hards’ to say: ‘we would be bottom of the league without him’; and for the ‘haters’ to say: ‘he’s not all that anyway’.  But in my perception, when you remove such vital ‘clogs in the system’ from the team, other players usually stand up.

It is in these moments, when the untouchables are out of the limelight, that the team really starts to gel and play as a unit. No longer does the first instinct have to be to find ‘Wazza’ or ‘Judgey’, but instead they play their natural game, the pass that they want to make. Other players shoulder some of the responsibility, they enjoy not being overshadowed, they shine and the team does too.

Like I said at the start, I don’t want to see any player get injured, but sometimes good can come from it…

A week of farewells

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

Relationships aren’t just between humans. Many people have love-hate relationships with sports, teams and players. I know I certainly do with Brentford FC.

For example, how many times have you been to watch your sport and have heard a fan shout abuse at one of your team’s players, yet the very next game they are waxing lyrical about the exact same player?

Or you’re out playing golf and you hit your driver the best you’ve ever hit it, yet the following hole you top it shorter than the red tees (not mentioning what has to happen next in that scenario).

It’s this emotional connection that keeps us going back for more. Many people, including my better half, just don’t like sport and can’t understand how a person can get so ‘caught up’ with something that is so out of their control. But it is that relationship, that emotion, that makes sport such an integral part of so many people’s lives.

This week has witnessed a great deal of emotion across several sports. It’s a week where we bid farewell to a true legend of basketball, a week where an immensely promising cricketer had their career ended abruptly, and a week where we begin to say goodbye to an iconic footballing stadium.

kobe

Kobe Bryant

There’s only one place I can possibly start and that’s with Kobe Bryant’s retirement. After 20 phenomenal years with the L.A. Lakers, Kobe racked up yet another record by scoring 60 points in his final NBA game. The 37-year-old has had a glittering career, amassing over -time 33,500 career points, averaging 25.64 points per game throughout the playoffs. An 18-time All-Star player, Kobe’s final season has been somewhat disappointing in an awful Lakers team. However the applause and respect shown to the great man at every venue over the past few months has been touching.

From a superstar in one sport to an emerging talent in another. Nottinghamshire and England batsman James Taylor had his career ended this week due to a serious heart condition. The 26-year-old is suffering from a similar condition to that suffered by football Fabrice Muamba who collapsed in the middle of a football pitch a few years ago. It is moments like these when you realise that life is about so much more than sport, and it makes you take a step back and appreciate other things. Taylor’s England career has mainly been in the one-day game, where the diminutive batsman has scored over 850 ODI runs at an average of 42. But what must be a bitter pill to swallow for the young man is that he still had his peak years in-front of him, and they promised so much after he only recently won back his spot in the Test side.

But it is not just people that we say goodbye to this week, as the final FA Cup game at Upton Park was played on Wednesday under the lights. Upton Park – or the Boleyn Ground – is home to West Ham United and has been since 1904. It is one of the true iconic grounds in the country. However from the start of next season, ‘The Hammers’ will be moving to the Olympic Stadium (on the taxpayers’ money) for the next part of their legacy. The move to a bigger stadium is something that a lot of aspiring teams are doing at present, even Brentford are going to be moving to a new purpose-built stadium in the next few years. And much like Brentford and Griffin Park, I hope that West Ham don’t lose the ‘closeness’ of the fans to the pitch when they move to the Olympic Stadium in August. Ask any player, when the fans are so close to the pitch it is immensely intimidating for any opposition player – something which West Ham will fail to replicate with an athletic track running around the outside of the pitch.

upton park

Upton Park

It is always emotional when we have to say goodbye to something, whether that’s in sport or in our personal life, but good things are normally just around the corner…just like my next blog post.

The rise of the underdog

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

No matter what sport you enjoy or what team you support, everybody loves the triumph of an underdog. It’s the fairy-tale ending which never fails to disappoint.

For any neutral in the game of football – heck any fan of the beautiful game – the rise of Leicester City over the past 12 months is one of the true underdog stories. From being rock-bottom of the Premier League heading into the home-straight of the 2014/2015 season, to the lofty heights of being Premier League champions (surely Spurs aren’t catching them now?!), Leicester have achieved something truly remarkable. And if you’re a fan of any lower league club, like myself, all we can do is romanticise that our team will achieve the unattainable – just like Leicester are set to do come May.

Turning our attention to golf, so many talking points came out of August National last week. We have the 9 (yes, nine) hole-in-ones during the Par-3 Contest on Wednesday, to the 6-putt of Els on the first green on the first day, to the understated brilliance of Danny Willett on the final day. What you may not know is that Willett didn’t plan to play at Augusta this year due to the expected birth of his child during Masters week. However with the birth happening 11 days early, Danny made the decision to fly out to Augusta on the Monday (the last competitor to arrive), play a few practice rounds before teeing it up on Thursday.

AugustaNationalMastersLogoFlowers

Augusta National

Now many people will look at this year’s Masters as the year Jordan Spieth threw away his chance to win back-to-back Green Jackets, but I think that’s massively unfair on Willett. Whilst not being the household name that Spieth is, any European golf fan will tell you that Danny Willett has been getting better and better over the past few years, and his latest achievement – which sees him reach the top 10 in the world rankings – came as no surprise. His flawless final-round score of five-under-par contained no bogeys, which, considering the immense pressure he found himself in on the back-nine, says it all about the quality that this young man possesses. Can you get a better week?

2016 is turning into the year of the underdog and with so many sporting events still to come, what else is on the cards? Maybe we’ll see a minnow nation triumph in the European Championships this summer, like Greece did not so long ago? Or will there be some major surprises in this summer’s Olympics in Rio? Maybe a Ryder Cup rookie will take the event by storm at Hazeltine National?

It’s going to be a great summer!