Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas fellow pseuds

Merry Christmas all!

If the hours are dragging as you wait for the festivities to begin - here are some things to do to while away the yuletide time...

88%How Addicted to Blogging Are You?

Find Ultrasound technician schools near you


Want to be a x ray technician?

Looking for payday loan?

And one more thing before I go:

Friday, December 21, 2007

NFL Week 15 – the Velvet Bear

How. On. Earth. Did. That. Happen? I know it is the season of miracles and all that, but how the heck did the Dolphins suddenly win a game? Trailing 13-3 to the Ravens at half time, they clawed their way into a three point lead with less than two minutes remaining, only to see Baltimore kicker Matt Stover land a field goal with 8 seconds left and force the game into overtime.

In overtime, Stover missed a much longer kick and then restored Dolphins QB Cleo Lemon sent Greg Camarillo 64 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Cue much celebration, especially as the all-conquering 1972 side were watching from the stands.

Much credit for the win must go to head coach Cam Cameron. He’s had a tough first season in the NFL, not helped by his starting quarterback being ruled out for the year early on and then injury after injury hitting his side. He’s stuck it through to the end, unlike Bobby Petrino in Atlanta, and got his reward on Sunday. Reward also for having the balls to admit he was wrong and to recall Lemon.

Three weeks ago, Coach Cameron gave the starting job to rookie quarterback John Beck. On Tuesday, check your turkey after it has been in the oven for 10 minutes. That will be about as ready to be eaten as Beck was to be an NFL quarterback. Lemon got the job back on Sunday and look at the return.

No-one is pretending that the ‘Fins will have a hope against the Pats on Sunday, but, despite all of talk about how nicely symmetrical it would be to have a 14-0 team play an 0-14 one, no-one really wanted to see Miami become only the second team to go through a season winless.

Speaking of the Pats (and 29 other teams):

- New England had a hard time of it, as sleet and 27mph winds lashed Gillette Field, but a 20-10 win over the Jets secured them top spot in the AFC playoffs;

- Brett Favre broke his weekly record, this time for most career passing yards, as Green Bay took the #2 NFC spot by beating St Louis 33-14;

- Not such good news for the Cowboys. Their NFL-best streak of games with a touchdown ended as they were beaten at home by the Eagles 10-6 and saw QB Tony Romo suffer a potentially serious thumb injury;

- The Cowboys lost safety Roy Williams for a game, too – he was banned for a ‘horse collar’ tackle on Eagles QB Donovan McNabb;

- And five Atlanta Falcons were fined for wearing or displaying messages on their kit in support of jailed dog-botherer Michael Vick;

- Wins for the Colts and the Buccaneers saw them confirmed as their respective divisional champions;

- Not only did the Giants’ playoff hopes take a knock in their defeat by the Redskins, but they lost tight end Jeremy Shockey with a broken leg, which will keep him out for the rest of the season;

- The Bills not only lost 8-0 to Cleveland in horrific winter weather (at least 4 inches of snow fell during the game), they then got stuck there overnight because of the weather and, on Monday, stuck – literally – for a few hours longer when their plane got stuck in mud;

- Steelers fan Richard Desrosiers finally made it to a Steelers game – nine months after he died. But the presence of his urn couldn’t help them avoid a 29-22 loss to the Jaguars;

- The play off position is now that, in the AFC, the Patriots and Colts will have first round byes and home advantage in the second round. The Chargers are also through. The Jaguars, Browns and Steelers will also join them unless one of them loses both their remaining games and either the Bills or the Titans win both of theirs;

- Over in the NFC it is slightly more clearcut. The Cowboys and the Packers get the byes and the home field advantage. The Buccaneers and the Seahawks are also through. The last two places are between the Giants, Redskins and Vikings. Again, if any of them lose their last two games (and the Giants play the Patriots in the last match of the regular season), other teams can step in by winning both of their final two (but again, there are too many to list here);

- Finally, the Pro-Bowl sides were selected this week. This is the closest thing to an international that the NFL gets, with the best players in each conference taking on one another in Hawaii in February. In truth, it is usually a rotten game, but selection is seen as a mark of a player having a very good season, so everyone wants to be picked, even if they cannot go. One of those not going, sadly, will be the late Sean Taylor, but he was an overwhelming selection in his position. Another Taylor, Fred of the Jags, also misses out, this time for the tenth time; he is now the only player to have run for over 10,000 yards in his career without making the game. At the other extreme, Ravens tackle Jonathan Ogden goes for the 11th time in his 12 year career, despite his side being on a franchise record eight game losing streak.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Mimi’s Review of the Year – Part The First

Fellow Pseuds: it’s December and so time to have a little think about the events of the year – as regards our favourite topic: SPORT. Unfortunately due to various shenanigans across the board, politics and drugs may creep in!

As this is a Review not the Oscars, I’m not going to be handing out awards, accolades or even allocades (which may disappoint those Pseuds who are also OBOers and may remember that much fun was had in the depths of the winter with Seani’s allocades!).

However, one award must be given. It isn’t to do with any actual sporting achievement but given that none of us would be here in this part of cyberspace without The Editor Our Good Lord Ebren, I feel it only right and proper to present The Begetter with a large and incredibly vulgar gold-plated trophy for giving us this space to publish our sometimes brilliant, sometimes mundane (me: endless Tour reports), sometimes humorous but always worth reading articles.
Thank you – but no time for speeches.

Moving on, rapidly – goodness me, this is about a year of sport not a year of blogging – I’m going to look back on the last 12 months and solely from my memory. From here on in, be assured I will not be googling or wikipediaing or even checking my own stories. I’m offering for comment my flawed and questionable memories of a year that for me, brought more pain, anguish and desperate chasing of false hope than great celebrations. Please do pick me up on errors or areas in which my flawed and fractured memory conflicts with your instant recall. Oh and there are some sports I simply won’t deal with as I am not worthy in your company to discuss eg football, American football, darts, chess – the list could go on forever really.

I have to start with December 2006 and cricket: our boys went to Australia to defend the Ashes. Within five weeks the all-conquering Aussies, led by gerbil-faced, foul-mouthed Tasmanian Ricky (second-best batsman in the world) Ponting had crushed us underfoot and we lost the Ashes 5-0. From Steve Harmison’s first ball in Brisbane I knew we were doomed. In Adelaide, England did what they do so well – tossed us a small smidgin of hope and then chucked it away. Desperate times. We did fight back and against the odds our defeated, dismayed, dismal One-day side somehow snaffled the Commonwealth Bank Series and we returned from the back of nowhere with at least one trophy.

Hardly having time to draw breath, or so it seemed, the lads were off again with Duncan "I’ve written a really good book now" Fletcher and we were under siege – or perhaps water – in the West Indies for the ICC World Cup. An interminably long tournament of which I can remember little except we lost lots of matches, Fred lost his head and the vice-captaincy, Scotland did better than expected and Ireland caused Pakistan’s downfall. What happened next, the death of Bob Woolmer, overshadows all memories of the tournament. The press went to town with conspiracy theories and to this day we have no real answers. It is a stretch now to remember who the finalists were. Sri Lanka and Australia I think, and obviously the Aussies won – that’s what they do. I have no idea what the scores were. Fletcher resigned/was sacked afterwards and we entered the Peter Moores era. From what I recall we were dodgy against India – we lost, then did well against the West Indies, but for all the detail I can recall, it could have happened on a different planet. Scotland meantime, hosted Israel for an international fixture, just a few miles away from me, but sad to say, I missed that match.

County cricket became a lottery of the weather gods and then came the World Twenty/20 where, surprise surprise, England were rubbish again, but not so rubbish that we didn’t hold out some hope. Vain as it always is and I’m afraid I can’t remember who won. Sticking to my principles and not looking anything up, I’m going out on a limb here and reckon it wasn’t Australia. Dog’s sake, there must be something apart from the CB series they didn’t win this year – and I think they’ve just wrapped up the Hadlee Trophy against the Kiwis.
I did spend time with some other sports – mostly those involving fit young men in leather or lycra.

Looking at those in leather first: "chuck it away, why not" Casey Stoner proved that there was a beautiful marriage for Aussies and Italians as he took Ducati to win after win on the 900cc MotoGP bikes. Casey’s dominance in MotoGP was a let-down for the series really as in recent years it has been the most exciting wheeled sport, but Yamaha and Rossi were plagued by tyre issues and mechanical problems and could not mount a proper challenge. As for Honda – well I just don’t know what went wrong there for the biggest team in motorbike racing. They were damn nearly beaten by Johnny-come-latelies Rizla Suzuki, so lots of homework for Honda in the off-season.

Stoner wrapped up the MotoGP Championship with at least two races to go and that was that. Fortunately for those of us who get a kick out of the leather and two wheels, the Superbike title went a bit further. Won eventually by our own James "Fingers" Toseland, it was thrilling and just a shame that most of it was not on terrestrial TV. Young James, now a DOUBLE World Champion, was honoured by being nominated for the BBC Sports Personality of The Year (or SPOT as I will refer to it later) and despite being a WINNER, was only there to play boogie-woogie piano. Which he did very well but that’s hardly the point. James moves to MotoGP next season with the second string Yam boys and we have our fingers, toes and whatever crossed for him.

Formula 1 went down to the wire – but only because FIA politics had taken over the events. McLaren v Ferrari in Spygate was unedifying and in fact sullying of the sport. Max Mosley’s remarks disparaging Sir Jackie Stewart brought the sport to an all time low. I was embarrassed to be known as a subscriber to an F1 magazine. However, cool, fast, speedster Kimi Raikkonnen ended winning the drivers’ title and deserved it for fantastic driving, and for never getting involved with any of the shit. In my view Ferrari shouldn’t have won the constructors’ title and I deplore the most recent development where Renault have been found just as guilty as McLaren of having other teams’ knowledge but not penalised.

"Babyface" Hamilton proved that a seat in a top F1 car and a lifetime’s relationship with Ron Dennis means you can win in F1 almost from the get-go. Alonso proved that being a World Champion doesn’t make you gracious in any way or form.

I came out of the F1 season thinking the right man won – that’s Kimi – but everything else was political shite.

In rallying, the wrong man won – Seb Loeb – but only because emotionally I’d have liked Marcus Gronholm to win in his last year and celebrate the double with his team who won the constructors. That’s Malcolm Wilson’s MSport Ford. A reason why it would have been so sweet if Ford could have had the double this year is that it would have been a tribute to one of motorsport’s greatest heroes: Colin McRrae.

Colin died in a freak helicopter accident on 16 September 2007 and had that not happened, I rather expect that part of this review would have been to report on him and David Coulthard winning the Race of Champions at Wembley (staged a week ago and this year won by the Germans: Michael (I never really tried to shove Damon or Jaques off the track) Schumacher and rising star Sebastian Vettel.

Sticking with four wheels for one more championship – and this is a goody. The World Touring Car Championship. A series that attracts manufacturers from Europe, the US and the Far East and has drivers who have won multiple titles. For the last two years it has been won by a boy from the Channel Isles who this year was driving for almost a family set-up. Andy Priaulx did not have the best car, did not have the best resources, but WON. He is a MULTIPLE WORLD CHAMPION – but obviously wasn’t even nominated for the BBC SPOT show.

Back to two wheels now, but not with petrol engines. Cycling – that most maligned of sports, but actually we didn’t have too bad a year.

The trouble is, with cycling, that the sports pages only ever cover three weeks in July – yup Le Tour. Admittedly, this year, that is what I spent my writing hours on for Pseuds – I’m sure you all remember and enjoyed my interminable reports of each and every stage. Or perhaps not.

Anyway – every year for almost as long as I can recall, Le Tour has been the focal point for drug scandals and just about everything that is wrong on the ProTour. This year was no different. Big names (and I’m going to be really careful here because I don’t have the bucks to hire lawyers) were kicked off before the start and at least one team was "disinvited". However, with the eyes of the world upon cycling, Le Tour kicked off Le Grand Depart in London in the best possible style. It was a triumph.

Not much else about Le Tour was – dopage après dopage followed. Then the Rasmussen debacle and no-one is really sure who won. Still better than last year – Floyd Landis, stripped of his win, vows to fight on.

But… despite all that cycling has had a great year. Mark Cavendish, 22, is a huge emerging talent and Roger Hammond, 42????, proved at Ghent that he still has it. Cadel Evans, the most boring cyclist ever but utterly clean, won the ProTour by dint of being boring (and having nicked Mattie Haydon’s eyebrows along the way), and the younger Schleck – Andy – is a very bright hope. Bradley Wiggins won on the road and on the track. He’s class. Chris Hoy failed in his high-altitude attempt at the Hour, but won loads of medals elsewhere and Beijing beckons for the entire GB Team who knocked the cycling socks off everyone, everywhere on the track this year.

Well, that just about wraps up my review, part the first, of 2007. I’ve done willow-wielders and chaps on wheels so far and there is much more to cover. Please feel free to vilify me for getting things wrong – I welcome all criticism.

In a PS – horribly I realise that in all my praise of the cyclists, I have not mentioned Victoria "Multiple Champion" Pendleton. My mistake. She is brilliant.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Chanelle and the Importance of Spelling

Our young friend Chanelle has been in touch with Zephirine again.

"So, names yeah. Me and Alisha have problems about names. Like she’s really called Alicia right but she always puts Alisha cos that’s how it’s spoken yeah, teachers and people always said Alissya which pisses her off. And I was Chantelle till there was this totally stupid girl on Big Brother yeah who was a celeb for five minutes called Chantelle, so I changed myself to Chanelle and then fuckin’ell there was another dumb girl on BB and she was Chanelle so I can’t decide now. Actually my real name isn’t either of those but I’m not telling you.

"So I like sympathise with the amazing Sri Lankan bowler Muttiah Muralitharan yeah, when he says like the spelling of his name that we all use in English isn’t quite correct right but it’s a bit late now cos he’s like the world’s leading wicket-taking spin bowler yeah and he’s in all the record books with a th and now it seems he would have rather had a d.

"So I looked up the spelling (what did you older people do before there was Wikipedia, just not know stuff?) and I found in Tamil they have this letter. It looks like this yeah and sounds like ‘either th or dh’:


"Pretty, isn’t it? Is it just me or does that look a bit like a cricket ball above part of the stumps yeah and a wiggly line showing the ball went all over the place and fooled everyone? Dead appropriate lol.

"But also actually if you know Asian people yeah quite a lot of them say d’s and th’s in quite a same sort of way so it is obviously like an intercultural language type thing, and people sometimes put dh in English to spell that sound yeah.

"So perhaps to be really really right he should be Muralidharan yeah but he’s probably doomed to have a th forever now. Don’t expect he minds too much though yeah, after all we’re just foreigners putting it in our own funny writing as far as he’s concerned lol. As long as he keeps taking the wickets of our batsmen yeah he’ll be happy which he does with like supreme ease : (

"The Sri Lankans are sooo cool yeah, I kind of sort of love Lasith Malinga with his crazy hair and his great smile yeah but don’t tell Karl right, I had to stop talking about Thierry Henry cos he got like edgy. Kumar Sangakkara is playing just amazing stuff yeah like every schoolboy cricket fan dreams of playing right and Mahela Jayawardene is like the Cool Captain In Charge and both those two are pretty neat like hotness-wise.

"In our team I am also of course always fond of Alistair Cook who is tall dark handsome and from Essex what could be better. But it is difficult to keep being fond of Alistair at the moment yeah because he is not playing at like his sparkling best and has been out for some not exactly star quality scores right. OK he did well last innings but like even nice brown eyes don’t make up for an average of 36.75.

"As you can see I’ve come a long way with my cricket knowledge yeah me and are old friends now and I still get emails sometimes from the cute Aussie boy I met in the W Indies and he always like tests me on my cricket cos Aussies like even compete with their email friends it’s in their blood lol. But I do like cricket now yeah even though Alisha thinks I have severe psychological problems and could use some immediate help.

"Sadly the Sri Lankans are pretty much playing better than us all round right and they just got beaten by the Aussies before. So even though we are supposed to be second in the world blimey could have fooled me yeah that must make the Aussies top of the world (no change there yawn) and the Sri Lankans second and us well like yeah somewhere else.

"It is one of those mysterious Brit sport things right. Cos hey, the idea of cricket is to make more runs than the other side yeah and our batsmen just don’t make a lot of runs, so like someone is missing the point. As I said to Karl right when he was really upset about us going out of Euro 2008, I was like, well did nobody explain to them that the best way to do it was to like score more goals than the opposition? Duh.

"As for poor Freddie Flintoff yeah even though when we met him in the W Indies back in the day right he was hammered and drivelling on about his kids all the time he was a nice bloke really yeah and I am so sorry about his ankle. I had a problem like that after I fell over in some stunning Manolo-type shoes right and my ankle went, I can’t wear any heels higher than three inches now yeah which is a total pain and totally cramps my style : (

"So, am I still with Karl you ask, well yeah, he ain’t Thierry lol but he is very sweet and like reliable. The other useful thing about Karl is he is the anorak of all time and loves to blog yeah, so if you want to have a serious conversation about topical matters of importance like the new Prada handbag right you can just tell him there’s a big row about the Premier League on a Guardian blog yeah and he’ll grab the Apple Powerbook and be quiet for hours : ))

"Sports blogs are a great service to the women of the world yeah, cos if men disappear off down the pub yeah they never come back till later and are well pissed and boring while if they’re sitting at the laptop they are still to hand and you can call them away from the screen any time if you shout loud enough lol."

Monday, December 17, 2007

Inconsequential Saturday - PremCorrespondent

Super Sunday is the Premier League’s illegitimate love child with Sky TV. It is hyped by pundits, pubs and papers alike as a showcase for the best oft English football. Unfortunately though, Super Sunday is an untrustworthy bastard.

It is a lie to suggest the football played will be ‘super’. And it is a con to pretend that the English league has four contenders, not least because the ‘super’ side below Manchester City in today’s table hasn’t won a title as recently as Leeds United.

So as most fans expected, two dull matches signalled another two-horse race when some one scored a 1-0 winner for Manchester United at Anfield, and some one else scored a 1-0 winner for Arsenal at the Emirates.

Fortunately though, Super Sunday has a legitimate brother born and raised in the loving wedlock of the old English league. Inconsequential Saturday.

Inconsequential Saturday is everything Super Sunday isn’t. Honest, exciting, and a showcase for English football.

Lets start with soon to be relegated Wigan. What could be more inconsequential than a thrilling 5-3 home win, a glorious comeback, two hat tricks, and three valueless points that lifted Athletic no league places up to deep trouble in 19th?

And thrilling it was. With no title to pretend to challenge for, Blackburn charitably gave Athletic a three goal lead before Roque Santa Cruz cruelly snatched it back to 3-3 with a hat-trick. Then, as if to signal their pointlessness, Wigan’s Marcus Bent scored two to complete his hat-trick and earn his side a happy memory of their time in top flight.

Next up, what could be less important than a 1-1 draw between Aston Villa and Sunderland, I hear you ask. Good question! The answer can only be a penguin catching fish with his flippers while riding a remote controlled motorcycle.

Even the ref feared that Sunderland’s injury time winner accidentally gave the game importance, and so he disallowed it for no good reason. As such Shaun Maloney and Danny Higginbotham scored the goals in this rip-roaring, end to end, physical battle from which all players and fans alike walked away exhausted.

Then there was Bolton Wanderers v Manchester City. This was more a nostalgia trip than football match as Saturday football struck again. Poor defending at both ends saw City ahead against the run of play before Bolton fought back to 2-1 by half time. In the second half City scored three, one early and two late, ensuring a thrilling ninth home win out of nine for Eriksson.

For a game of almost laughable inconsequence Fratton Park was the place to be. Tottenham are too good to go down and too far behind the chasing pack to catch up. Meanwhile Pompey’s own gafa keeps repeating they will only finish mid-table.

And yet, as much to the surprise of their own fans as the rest of us, Spurs put on a top four performance for all to see, if Sky had bothered to show it. The Lilywhites won away for the first time this season with a comprehensive and classy swagger that made them look worthy of a simplistic prefix. And the late winner ensured suspense.

Elsewhere West Ham fielded a second string side amid a desperate injury crisis and lost 2-0 to Everton. Liverpool’s second side are now level with Liverpool’s finest in the league, but don’t expect a promotion to ‘super’ any time soon.

Already relegated Derby deserved more than their 0-1 defeat to relegation candidates Boro. A different ref who cared enough to pay attention might have awarded a penalty to the home side. Though frankly, a well deserved point to Derby wouldn’t have meant much anyway.

No one noticed Birmingham draw with Reading on Saturday, but it was a stunner of a game. A penalty neutralised a goal mouth scramble to give both sides one goal. And in the second half strikers and defenders alike hit the woodwork, often at their own end.

Finally, Fulham v Newcastle was as close to ‘Super’ as Saturday was allowed to be. Delayed for live TV coverage, this intensely dull match was undeservedly won in the dying seconds. That it was Newcastle that took the points barely mattered to the sleeping audience.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

England FC - Ebren

It was at my first 4-hour blog training course (don't ask, just don't) that we were told that one of the secrets of successful blogging was to "post little and post often".

So - here we go - my thoughts on the assumed imminent arrival of Fabio Capello to train England's national football team.

Now most angles have been covered already by people with more time for research and more readers than I have, so I've looked for a new perspective.

Firstly, we've always wanted England to play more like a club side - so a Foreign Coach is a good first step. Secondly, if he gets one of those natty tracksuit tops with his initials on it we will have England FC on it. So looking good already.

On the language barrier - I don't think Zola would be much cop as a translator.

He'd be fine explaining what Fabio wants done to the players and at press conferences, but how on earth could he hope to explain to the new manager about the English players' drinking, gambling, nightclubbing, filming themselves, fighting and autobiography addictions?

No, what we need is someone with these experiences that can also speak Italian.

Has anyone seen Gazza recently?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

NFL Week 14 - the Velvet Bear

Who is the greatest quarterback of all time? It’s a question all fans of this game like to pose from time to time. This season, it has been even more to the front of fans’ minds, as they have revelled in the sight of three of the best ever – Favre, Brady and Manning P – battle it out. Are any of these the best ever? It is almost impossible to say.

One of the ways you can look at this is by looking at the NFL Hall of Fame, the very real institution (you get given a special ring and everything) to which between four and seven former players or officials are elected every year. To be eligible, a nominee must have been retired from the game for five years. This allows for a period of reflection upon a nominee’s career and, as the voting is done by journalists, not players, also means that most feuds that have evolved over the nominee’s career have been settled or forgotten.

It is not an easy task to get into the Hall of Fame. Only seventeen people out of the thousands who have ever played, coached or whatever in the NFL are nominated each year. Less than half of those are elected. There are currently 30 quarterbacks in there, so it is fair to assume that the best must be in there, somewhere. But how do you compare, say ‘Paddy’ Driscoll and Benny Friedman, who played in the 1920s, with Bobby Layne from the immediate post-war years, Johnny Unitas, the first of the post-merger star QBs, or someone like Dan Marino?

In an effort to bring about some sort of comparison, in 1973 the NFL introduced the ‘passer rating’ scheme. This aims to introduce a measure of the efficiency of a quarterback’s game, comparing the number of passes which they throw and the number which are caught with the strength of the teams they are playing against. It is comparable to the Duckworth-Lewis system in cricket only, frankly, even more incomprehensible.

Using this system, the best quarterback ever was the 49ers’ Steve Young, with Manning second. However, to be rated fully, you have to have thrown over 1,500 passes in your career. Which means playing for at least four seasons and therefore rules out a number of younger players like Tony Romo from the comparison. However, if you scale it down and look at ratings over the first 1,000 passes, you get a very interesting statistic. Not only does Marino leap from mid-table to first, but lying in second place is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ current triggerman, Ben Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger has had an odd start to his career. First season was spent finding his way, as is the case with all new quarterbacks. Second season he led his team to – and won – the Superbowl. Third season, awful. A motorcycle accident in the off-season almost killed him (especially as he wasn’t wearing a helmet) and destroyed his confidence. This year, the Steelers have quietly slid up on the rails to become the ‘other’ team who could threaten the Patriots, mostly due to Roethlisberger’s fearless and determined driving of his team.

All of which made Sunday’s matchup between the Steelers and the Pats all the more interesting. Could Pittsburgh end New England’s winning run? Steelers’ safety Anthony Smith certainly thought so – and went so far as to guarantee it. Which was like a red rag to New England, who promptly trampled all over the Steelers on their way to a 34-13 win, with Smith coming in for a particularly harsh shoeing. In fact, he was left to eat a large slice of humble pie as Brady first deceived him into letting Randy Moss run free, resulting in a 63 yard touchdown, then did him again with an outrageous play which saw him swap passes with Moss before throwing more than 80 yards right over Smith’s head for a Jabar Gaffney touchdown.

It is very hard to see who can stop the Patriots from going unbeaten now. Their next two games are against the Dolphins and the Jets and their final match is against the Giants, who will probably rest key players as they will have a playoff game the following weekend, whereas the Pats have a bye that week. And given that the first two teams both seem to think that defence is what you use to surround degarden (sorry), what price Brady beating Mannings record of touchdown passes in a season (he needs five more) or Moss beating the record for touchdown catches by one receiver (he’s currently second with 19)?

- The Cowboys reaffirmed their position as the only true rivals to the Pats with a last gasp 28-27 win over the Lions, coming from behind by scoring 14 unanswered points in the last 15 minutes. Remember I said the other week that whenever Romo was in trouble, he looked for tight end Jason Witten? Seems that no-one in Detroit reads this column, as Witten not only racked up a record-equalling 15 catches in the game, but caught the winning touchdown pass;
- Brett Favre’s playing streak continues. Despite shoulder and elbow injuries, the old man played on as the Packers romped to an easy 38-7 win over the Oakland Raiders, for whom JaMarcus Russell was not even on the bench;
- The Colts quietly and efficiently moved to an 11-2 record with a 44-20 win over the Ravens;
- The Seahawks clinched their division with a 42-21 drubbing of the Cardinals, which featured three interceptions
- The Dolphins lost again. No surprise there. I feel sorry for rookie quarterback John Beck, who was pulled from the game after throwing an interception touchdown. I’m not sure what future you have in the NFL if you are too bad for the load of garbage that is the 2007 ‘Fins;
- The Vikings continue their unexpected run of form. A 27-7 win over the 49ers means they are probably just one win from a playoff place;
- At the other extreme, Chicago’s downward spiral continues as they managed to lose to the Redskins, despite them being forced to play a quarterback who hadn’t had even half a game since 1996;
- The Chargers came from behind to beat the Titans 23-17 in what was a bizarre game for them. Philip Rivers played like a dog for all but 30 seconds of the game and was very publicly cold-shouldered by star running back LaDanian Tomlinson;
- All of which means we now know 5 of the 12 teams going to the playoffs – the Packers, Colts, Cowboys, Seahawks and Patriots. The Chargers and Buccaneers will join them if they win on Sunday, as should the Vikings and Giants;
- And finally, Michael Vick got 23 months in jail. Which is either too much or too little, depending upon your perspective.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Premcorrespondent, the kepab and the neighbours

Ha! thought l'd forgotten didn't you.

No - not I. Instead your faithful scribe spent the weekend avidly glued to the porcelain throne after an ill advised trip to the local kepab (sic) palace at something o'clock on Friday left me abed and requiring the tender ministrations of Mrs Correspondent all weekend.

But fear ye not, although I was unable to take my customary place in the press boxes of the Premier League, no stone has been left unturned in my quest to find a stand in.

And my search bore fruit, because, as I raised my head from another dry heave in the direction of the U-bend - I found the following scrawled on the torn-out pages of a year-9 textbook that had been thrust under the lavatory door.

Yes! Lovingly transcribed from Match of the Day in exchange for "gi'za" fags (I assume that is a number lower than 20) and a can of Belgian's finest is next-door's teen daughter's account of the goings on in the league.

Forgive me, for I must now bid thee adieu - I have somewhat rushed my recovery and a move from the safety of dry toast and plain water in the direction of a cheese sarni has initiated a chain of events that are rather pressing.

Wot append in the futty
bi [illegible]

Cordin to the big eerd wun - this wuz the big noos this weekend. Cos, y see, theese to red teams got beet.

Wun got beet right at the start ov the games, that's Livapule - my mate Darren likes them, funni coz iz sisters mates saz he fancies Colette and she ates Livapule because this wun time she saw someone in a livapule shirt and he was well gros, and he totally fancied her, but she was like - whatever. Even tho he had a car and stuff.

Right, but, livapule got beet right. Which ain't normal, specialy as it was this shit team - Redin - wot beet them.

And this other team got beet too. Asnorl. Right, see them lot lost n all. They got beet but, it was like confisin, coz on the telly the team in red - which I rekond was Asnorl right, they scored twice. But they was full of mingers. So they weren't Asnorl right, they was anova teem in red. Called Buruh or summin. From Newcasle. Coz Arsnorl has fit players like Thierry Henry and Freddie Ljungberg and Cesc Fabregas (god hes fit - I definately wud), but nun of them woz playin so I rekon thats why they lost. But they was still way fitter than the other teem.

But Chels wun - which is cule, coz there ace. They beet sum utha teem from Newcasle who play in red and white with that sexy irish one wot my bro saz used to pla for Man U whuse in charge. He's well fit. Since Joses gone, he's like the fittest bloke not playing (not as fit as Cesc, but like pretty fit for an old guy. Chelle reckons hes fitter than Cesc, but I meen, wots that about - hes well old - and like has she seen Cesc in that new nike ad - he's like fit AS).

An its ace Chels wun, cos now with the red teems losin, they is well close to winnin the leeg again. Like they used to in the old days. But Man U wun and that meens there still up on Chels, but not for long, coz Chels is the best. But this week Man U beet Darby, natch, coz whose herd of derby.

And even tho thats all the teams mi mates no, there woz loads of utha stuff on. And - coz I'm like respectabel like and did the deel fare and skware - I like rote stuf down bout them games to.

Rite, B'burn lost to West Ham but it woz a well shit game. With like wun goal and thats it. Wigan lost to Bolton - wich iz a bit of a joke, right, coz there both losers, gettit?

Spurs, who my mate Jef reckons are gud so must be shit, they beet Man City and Newcasle (the ones in black and wite) beet Birminninlhnim or summit 2-1.

And like, even tho there woz loads of games already there woz like still more.

And they woz well weerd names - like Action Villa and Evertun. But yeah, they woz in different games, rite, so the Action teem lost to Portsmuth 3 -1 and the Evertun wun 3 to nufink at Fulam.

Wot all that meen is the gud teems (Well Fit Asnorl, Man U, super-Chels and Liverpule) theys at the top (duh), even though like two were like losers, and the shit teems (Wigan Darby and that lot wiv the fit irish wun that lost to my Chels) there at the bottom. And theres loads of utha teems in the middle, rite, but like whatever.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The greatest - Ebren

I meant to write this a month or so back, a year ago in fact. It's an ode to a single word, a symphony in ten letters.


Sport has true greats, colossae, but almost none can say this.

Arsenal 2003/4 managed it - Man U 99 won the treble, Chelsea 04/05 got more points, but Arsenal are remembered as invincibles.

Sugar-Ray Robinson was the man for who the "pound-for-pound" title was created - but it was Rocky Marciano who retired with a zero in the loss column.

And last night two such men collided, but the true great wasn't in the ring.

Mayweather is a study in classical boxing and dancing feet, deceptive power and determined defence. Hatton is warrior with astonishing power, energy and will.

But the true great was in the audience.

Joe Calzaghe has fought 44 professional fights and lost none of them. He has stopped his opponents inside the distance 32 times.

He is the first undisputed super-middleweight champion of the world, has held his WBO title for more than a decade and successfully defended his world title more than 20 times.

No one can say that. No one on the planet has held a world title that long. Only two men in the history of boxing have successfully defended their title more times - Joe Louis and the less well-known Dariusz Michalczewski.

To put this in perspective, Calzaghe won the WBO super-middleweight in 1997 - defeating Chris Eubank (himself undefeated at middleweight, winner of world titles at two weights and considered one of the greatest British boxers of the last 30 years). In 2005 Calzaghe - who despite holding a world title for eight years was still considered untested - came up against Jeff Lacey.

Lacey has rather dropped from the scene recently, but at the time he was mentioned in the same breath as Mike Tyson. He was undefeated, a world champion, and the pundits were predicting a drubbing for this no-name Brit. Calzaghe won every round, landing more than 1,000 punches in the process. It remains to be Lacey's only defeat.

After eight years of Being disrespected by the boxing community, Calzaghe's victory was so complete that he struggled to find an opponent in the wake of it.

But he did. And there was that pesky matter of the other word boxers love to have attached to their names - undisputed.

On November 4th this year Joe Calzaghe comprehensively defeated Mikkel Kessler to become the first undisputed supermiddleweight champion of the world.

Undefeated, undisputed, a world champion for more than a decade. And as I type this Sports Personality of the year.

If Floyd Mayweather really wants to be considered the best boxer, he should do what Hatton did - step up a weight class and test himself against another undefeated world champion. But he won't - because then there would be no doubt.

Joe Calzaghe is the greatest boxer currently fighting, and anyone who wants to disagree with me can step into the ring with him and lose.

Friday, December 7, 2007

NFL Week 13‏ - the Velvet Bear

It would be wrong to start this week without mentioning Sean Taylor. My last paragraph last week mentioned his tragic death. He was shot by an intruder at his home and died the following day. He was 24 and had a very promising career ahead of him – indeed, there are many who are now saying that he could have been one of the great defensive players of all time. This is perhaps stretching a point for a player who had only played a couple of seasons, but what we can say is that Taylor was a wholehearted competitor who asked and gave no quarter. He had been absent injured from the Redskins’ matches in the fortnight before his death and it showed, as they gave up easy plays into the area of the pitch he would normally have covered. They will miss him on the pitch, but by all accounts they will miss him more off it.

Sunday was always going to be an emotional day for the Washington side. A minute’s silence before the game was impeccably observed. The Washington team wore stickers on their lapels bearing Taylor’s number, 21, and throughout the NFL players wore the same sticker on their helmets. In tribute, the Washington defense played their first play of their game against Buffalo with only 10 men and Taylor’s strong safety position empty.

No-one minded the 22 yards which the Redskins gave up to Fred Taylor on that play. What they did mind was what happened 59 minutes and 56 seconds later. With what was going to be the last kick of the game, Bills kicker Rian Lindell lined up a 31 yard field goal attempt. Buffalo were 16-14 down. Success would give the Bills a much needed win, by a solitary point. To increase the pressure on Lindell, Redskins’ head coach Joe Gibbs called a timeout. All part of the game and all perfectly legal. Thirty seconds later everyone went back onto the pitch, Lindell set up to take the kick again – and Gibbs called another timeout. Naughty. Not allowed. That is called ‘Icing’ and is most definitely banned. The resulting 15 yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct moved the kick to the 36 yard line and proved to be a piece of cake for a kicker of Lindell’s quality.

Did the emotion of the day get to Gibbs? Who can tell. The end result is that the Redskins are almost certainly out of the playoffs.

The sad news about Taylor rather overshadowed the much vaunted faceoff between the Packers and the Cowboys. For some strange reason, the Packers decided to change their strategy and go for a long passing game, instead of the short passes which have served them so well this season. The result was an easier than expected win for the Cowboys and their 37-27 victory means that they will almost certainly play at home throughout the January playoffs. Worse news for the Packers were the elbow and shoulder injuries sustained by Brett Favre, which could force him to miss his first match since he became a first-choice quarterback over 15 years ago.


- The Bears blew a 16-7 lead in the final quarter, going down 21-16 at home to the Giants. The battle of the NFL’s two most underwhelming quarterbacks was won by, well, no-one really. Eli had a stinker until those two touchdowns in the last 15 and Rex didn’t actually do much wrong. The loss puts the Bears out of the playoffs and the win means the Giants are still in with a shout.

- The Patriots are unbeaten, but boy did they get a scare in Baltimore, just nudging past the Ravens by 27-24. You start to get the feeling that teams are finding the Pats out now. Their main threat on Monday wasn’t Moss, Stallworth or even Wes Welker, but running back Lawrence Maroney. A better team than the Ravens – who are now 4-8 for the season – might have shaded this one. Are the Pats perhaps running out of steam at the wrong moment?

- The Dolphins, on the other hand, would die for some sort of momentum. Going down 40-13 at home isn’t funny. Especially not when it is to the Jets, who have barely been able to string two passes together all season. To make matters worse for the ‘Fins, linebacker Zach Thomas, one of their few decent players, is likely to miss the rest of the season with the migraines he has suffered from since a car accident back in October.

- There are still only two confirmed play-off teams, but the Colts and the Steelers both only need one more win to get there after victories on Saturday. Peyton Manning’s sublime little shovel pass to running back Luke Lawton for what proved to be Indy’s winning score even had Jaguars’ coach Jack Del Rio nodding in appreciation.

- As predicted, JaMarcus Russell made his debut for the Raiders, coming off the bench and showing what a class act he is by throwing two booming downfield passes in a 34-20 win over the Broncos masterminded by the other Oakland QB, Josh McCown. The Broncos’ season, which started so promisingly, appears to be dead in the water.

- As not predicted, the Minnesota revival continues. Tavaris Jackson at last looked like a professional footballer and not a kid who had wandered in off the streets as the Vikings beat up the Lions 42-10.

- The Chargers beat the Chiefs 24-10 and now look like they will win their division. This is in no small measure due to them suddenly realising that they have on of the best running backs ever in their side and giving him the ball more than once in a blue moon. Two touchdowns on Sunday moved LaDanian Tomlinson to third on the all time list with 111 and he still has plenty of time to beat the all time record of Emmitt Smith of 165.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Third Person Singular? - Zephirine

Recently, our good friend Marcela Mora y Araujo drew attention to Juan Roman Riquelme’s habit of referring to himself in the third person: "I like to think it's been a good year for Riquelme." Marcela also commented: “Diego Maradona consistently uses ‘Maradona’ in his speech, and over years of careful analysis I feel confident formulating the following hypothesis: ‘Maradona’ is used when discussing the media construct, the celebrity - e.g. 'Maradona should not be held as an example to anybody' - and ‘I’ enters the discourse when the narrative truly is in the first person; when he is talking about playing football, for instance, he says ‘I’. Anyone feels like funding me? I'll do a PhD on the topic.”

In eager anticipation of Marcela’s PhD, here are a few more thoughts on this phenomenon, and no doubt Pseuds will have their own to add...

This odd use of language has appeared among cricketers too: during the disastrous 2006 Ashes season, England’s captain Michael Vaughan, sidelined through injury, began talking about himself as Michael Vaughan and was roundly mocked on the threads for his apparent swollen ego and detachment from reality. Interestingly, the speech pattern seems to have disappeared with Vaughan’s return to health and form – is he now in a more normal psychological state, or did his wife/PR person read the cricket blogs and tell him to stop it?

By far the most unsettling of these strange verbal usages in the cricket world was that adopted by GU journalist Rob Smyth, who spent an entire over-by-over commentary referring to himself as Daddy – a genuinely creepy gimmick which probably got him a record number of emails. Mr Smyth, however, is no longer with GU.

This is the thing about the third-person trick: other people don’t like it. It bothers them. They think the person concerned is nuts or conceited or both. Or else it’s a bit of a joke: “It’s all about entertainment,” says Floyd Mayweather, “and that’s what Floyd Mayweather brings to the table.” And the effect seems to be the same in most languages. It’s not that you can’t use another word instead of ‘I’ - ‘one’ or its equivalent is used as a substitute in various languages, and in some languages you can refer to yourself as ‘he’ or ‘she’. No, it’s the use of the name which provokes a reaction.

So why do they do it?

Perhaps it’s an unconscious expression of the psychological tricks required to deal with the stress of competing and performing at a high level, or, in the case of Maradona, being a legend and not having lived anything approaching a normal life for many years.

Some degree of disassociation is probably encouraged by sports psychologists as a mechanism to make it easier to deal with media hype. When the tabloids and pundits are alternately describing someone as a genius and a total loser, it must be a lot easier to take if that someone isn’t you...or isn’t quite you.

Detachment must also be needed to deal with defeat or inexplicable loss of form. Suddenly the skills have deserted you – is it your fault? What have you done? Have you annoyed God? Were you rubbish all along, but a kind of collective hallucination prevented anybody from noticing? No, no, it’s just a thing that’s happening to a different part of you, an other you, and your inner self isn’t personally responsible.

There’s also the pressure on successful sportspeople to see themselves as brands – the company that pays, for example, Jonny Wilkinson to advertise its range of classic men’s clothing is buying a set of attributes which are connected with him in the public mind, and in turn encouraging him to see himself as a marketable entity which really has those characteristics “modest, taciturn, English hero”. While supping on his diet of egg-whites and boiled chicken, does Jonny look at those adverts and think “That’s me” or “That’s ‘Jonny Wilkinson’ ”?

Athletes have no disguise, whatever luridly-coloured and/or skimpy kit they compete in; they aren’t playing a role on screen with the help of make-up, camera angles and computer effects, or blogging behind the safety of a pseudonym. But, aided by the media and its own prejudices, the public will see its own version of them. How can they distinguish between the person the public sees and the person they feel themselves to be? Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff is clear that Freddie is the cricketer and celebrity while Andrew is the family man – and it seems that sometimes when Freddie goes out and leaves Andrew at home, he gets into trouble.

Robbie Williams has said that the ‘Robbie Williams’ who appears on stage is his evil twin. Many sportspeople experience ‘white line rage’ – as they step out onto the pitch they take on a persona which is more aggressive, more provocative, more reckless than the everyday one. It’s not just about being pumped up and adrenalised, it’s being taken over by a more vivid and dangerous version of yourself. To succeed at the highest level, that persona has to be encouraged, fed, trained, nurtured, taking over like a cuckoo in a nest. It’s not surprising if the anxious parent bird sometimes feels disconnected from the monster.

Nuts? Conceited? Demonically possessed? Or just trying to cope with it all? What do you think?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Beats doing the Christmas shopping - premcorrespondent

I've already bought the wife her Christmas present - a new ironing board - so that left me free to watch the football slewing across the television over the weekend.

First up was the Chelsea - West Ham local derby (although it takes me longer to get from Stamford Bridge to Upton Park than it takes Roman Abramovich to get from Stamford Bridge to Monaco), which saw an offside Joe Cole bite the hand that used to feed him. A Big Four Club went into a top four place, everyone yawned and Avram Grant nearly smiled.

The three o'clock kick-offs-saw criminal justice reform agitating do-gooder Harry Redknapp reflect on a stalemate with Everton at Fratton Park, vaudevillian defender Titus Bramble hand Sven's Citeh a goal before Borat lookalike Paul Scharner rescued a point for the ever-cheerful Steve Bruce's Wigan, and the last draw of the afternoon played out by 22 unknowns representing Reading and Middlesborough. Of the games with a positive outcome, popular Big Sam Allardyce's Newcastle fell to two superb David Bentley strikes at Blackburn. How that young man finds enough time away from the mirror to practise, I don't know, but he shows every sign of knowing how to kick a ball properly - a rare quality in a young Englishman. Roy Keane's Sunderland repeated last week's feat of scoring a single goal, but conceded seven fewer to secure three points against doomed Derby.

The highlight of Saturday's programme was Arsenal's first half performance at Villa Park during which Arsene appeared to field 10 Juan Roman Riquelmes (only with more, much more, pace and heart). Come the second half, Martin O'Neill borrowed the old Bolton blueprint and got his VIlla men amongst them, but this new, resilient, Arsenal held on to run out 1-2 winners in a splendid match that was a fine advert for English football, if not English footballers. Arsenal have shown that they can play without Little Cesc: can they play without their African contingent? If so, the Premier League will surely be theirs.

Sunday's games comprised Liverpool swatting aside a minimal challenge from Bolton at Anfield as a Big Four Club went into a top four place and an hilariously incompetent match at White Hart Lane marred by Ossie Ardiles, sorry, Juande Ramos selecting no competent defenders, a red card for Robbie Keane apparently agreed upon by the referee and the radio-linked fourth official (making them the only two people in the country who thought so) and a magnificent winner from Arsenal reject Sebastian Larsson. It's a shame that it was Keane and not strike partner Berbatov who got the dodgy card, as nobody would have noticed the sulky Bulgarian's absence (and they won't when he goes in the transfer window in January).

The final Premier League game of the weekend brought two goals for "not quite as good as Kaka" Ronaldo as Manchester United defeated Fulham 2-0. Who would have forecast that?

I have to wait 48 whole hours for the next Premier League game with just some Champions League football to see me through - I'll survive.

An intimate setting for a clash of old foes - Byebyebadman

The 2008 European Championships will be a tournament of familiarity. In Group A the Swiss and Turkish players will exchange pleasantries just a few years after kicking their way to brutal injury and suspension in a World Cup qualifying play-off in Istanbul. Group D will see Spain, Russia and Greece in opposition, just as they were in the group stages four years ago. Neighbours and rivals Germany and Austria meet in the final matchday of group B in Vienna, which recalls unpalatable memories of their mutually beneficial and grotesquely manufactured result in Gijon in 1982. Romania and Holland were paired together in qualifying and are together again in Group C, although this will be overshadowed somewhat by the presence in the group of Italy and France, who on 17th June 2008 in Zurich will meet once again in international competition.

That date marks twenty-two years to the very day that I first saw France and Italy play each other. The World Cup in Mexico opened my eyes to the wonders of football outside of England and that summer I was, like many others, bewitched by the French midfield of Giresse, Tigana, Fernandez and Platini. In the knockout phase they faced Italy, a meeting of European and World champions, which the French deservedly won two-nil. It was Platini, he of Italian heritage and captain of the mighty Juventus, who chipped in the crucial opening goal to help secure their first competitive victory over Italy in sixty-six years.

That victory could be said to be an example of one national footballing stereotype winning out over another, with French flair outwitting Italian defensive acumen. The next time the two teams would meet they proved to be so closely matched in all departments that it kicked off a decade of international rivalry that the continent has not witnessed since the fractious contests between Holland and Germany in the late eighties and early nineties.

Firstly, Luigi di Biagio smashed a penalty against the crossbar to hand victory to the French in the 1998 World Cup quarter-final in Paris after two hours of goalless, tense football. The Euro 2000 final was a far more liberated affair, where a Toldo mistake in the last minute of normal time and a Trezeguet golden goal cruelly snatched away victory from the Italians. Revenge on both counts came for the Azzurri in Berlin just over a year ago, where Trezeguet’s missed penalty in the shootout was mercilessly punished and Italy claimed their fourth World Cup. Since then the French have taken four points out of six in Paris and Milan to just pip their rivals to first place in their qualifying group for Euro 2008.

Although over the period France just about have the upper hand there is no doubt control in this seemingly ongoing battle currently lies with Italy, having snatched the biggest of prizes away from the French in Germany. That match is of course notorious for the incident between Zidane and Materazzi that ended with the greatest player of his generation being sent off in his final game. To use a parallel with the Germany and Holland rivalry mentioned earlier, the incident has cranked up the tension in the same way as when Rijkaard spat on Voller and both were sent off at Italia 90. Revenge will be uppermost in French minds in Zurich, not just for the World Cup but for the ignominious end to the career of their former captain.

Thoughts now move to next June. As the final game in what on paper looks one of the toughest groups an international championship can ever have known, the progression of both teams could hang in the balance during that ninety minutes in the tiny Letzigrund Stadion in Zurich. Veterans of the previous meetings – Thierry Henry, Lillian Thuram and Fabio Cannavaro have played in every encounter between the two sides in the last decade whilst Patrick Viera, Alessandro del Piero and Gianluigi Buffon have been at least in every squad – are used to surroundings of far more grandeur like the San Siro, the Stade de France, the Olympic Stadium in Berlin or the de Kuip in Rotterdam. Although the stadium boasts a ghastly athletics track around the pitch, it’s capacity of just under thirty thousand promises to make this a more intimate occasion than the rival sets of players are accustomed to.

And they may meet further down the line – with UEFA’s decision to split the tournament into American football style conferences where groups A and B provide one finalist and C and D the other, there could potentially be a semi-final in Vienna should both teams qualify from the first round and win their quarter-finals. So we are guaranteed one, but there could be even two acts to come in international football’s greatest modern rivalry.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Super-bumper double NFL - the Velvet Bear

Sorry NFL fans - Ebren here - due to my rubbishness as an editor [please don't tell my real employers] you have a super, bumper double roundup to enjoy. See, it's a good thing really.

Thanksgiving games, just a week after the turkeys were pardoned
There are three traditional elements to Thanksgiving. The turkey dinner, the Macy's Day Parade in New York, and a football match involving the Detroit Lions. Yep, for 68 years the good people of the United States have scoffed down their Thanksgiving feast whilst watching a team which not only hasn't won anything since 1957, but has actually only won one playoff game since the Superbowl began 42 years ago - in 1991.

Judging from Thursday's game, that isn't going to change very quickly. The Lions were woeful against the Packers. If Green Bay hadn't gone to sleep in the final quarter and allowed them back into the game, they'd have been thrashed. As it was, a 37-26 loss flattered them beyond belief.

In the second Thanksgiving match, the Cowboys destroyed the Jets 34-3 without ever playing anything like their best. In fact, by the third quarter both teams seemed to have their eyes on the turkey and the only big surprise was that they had only scored three touchdowns, one of those from an interception and none of them by Terrell Owens. That situation was rectified mid-way through the fourth quarter, but in truth the game was so one-sided, it was hardly worthy of the occasion. The Jets were utterly clueless on offense, giving Kellen Clemons no protection, but no-one to pass to.

The game had been billed as a match up between the Jones brothers - Thomas, running back for the Jets, and Julius, who fills the same role for the Cowboys. Thomas left the Bears in a huff at the end of last season and must now be regretting that decision, much in the same way that anyone would if they had an 11 week hangover. Julius didn't have a great day - no-one did - but he didn't have to be great to outshine his brother.

In the final match, the Colts got back to winning ways with a 31-13 win over the Falcons. Atlanta actually ended the first quarter 10-0 up, before the Colts got into their stride, winning the second 21-3 and then shutting the Falcons out for the second half. There were signs that they are returning to the form which made them champions last year.

More after Sunday's games, including a preview of the big Packers v Cowboys game next Thursday.

The next installment: before you can even draw breath or make a cup if tea - take that BBC3
It is less than a month since we went through all of the hype around the Patriots-Colts game and this week we’re getting even more, this time over Thursday’s matchup between the Packers and the Cowboys.

Whilst a game between two sides with 10-1 records doesn’t quite have the cachet of two unbeaten teams slugging it out, there is an obvious parallel with the earlier game in that these are two teams who are clearly going to be in the playoffs, but who cannot meet in the Superbowl as they play in the same conference, the NFC. Most people - myself included - do see it as a preview of the NFC championship game on 20 January 2008.

Quite what we can learn from this game is hard to fathom. Both sides have very good records despite being very limited on offense. The Cowboys’ threat comes exclusively from the almost twin-like telepathy between young quarterback Tony Romo and the fastest ego on legs, veteran receiver Terrell Owens. The Packers don’t even have that. The only reason they are an attacking threat is the class and guile of Brett Favre, and the fact that he is experienced enough to find a way out of most situations they find themselves in. Interestingly, though, if a defense puts either of these two under pressure, they both use the same get-out move, throwing a short pass to a tight end.

Knowing all of this, it is arguable that the success of these two teams has come more on the back of the inadequacies of their opponents, rather than because either is spectacularly good. It is worth noting that both sides lost their one game to the Patriots and that neither has played the Colts. For all of the hype, this has the makings of an average game between two slightly better than average sides. I’ll take the Cowboys to just shade it.


A thriller at Soldier Field as Chicago come from behind to beat the Broncos 37-34. Rex Grossman led them to two touchdowns in the final five minutes of normal time and Robbie Gould then kicked the winning field goal in overtime. In truth, it was a game dominated by ineptitude. The first 10 of the Broncos’ points came from Chicago mistakes, whilst two penalty calls cost the Bears a touchdown and an interception of their own. Then Denver repaid the compliment by doing the one thing everyone else has been bright enough not to do this season and kicked a punt straight down the throat of Devin Hester, which he promptly and predictably ran back for a 75 yard touchdown. Then, just for good measure, they did it again later in the game and handed Hester an 88 yard return.

The Patriots kept their unbeaten record, but were taken right to the wire by the Eagles, eventually winning 31-28 - only the second time they have scored less than 34 points in a match this season.

Eli Manning came good again, throwing four interceptions as the Giants lost 41-17 to the Vikings. Three of those interceptions were run back for touchdowns, giving the scoreline a somewhat distorted look. Oh, and Peyton was watching from the stands, too.

Just when you thought the Rams were turning their season around, they spectacularly blew it against the Seahawks. From 19 -7 up at half time, they conceded 17 unanswered points in the second half. As the game clock ticked away, they camped on the Seattle one yard line, only for quarterback Gus Frerotte to drop the ball.

The Bengals finally woke up to the fact that they were confusing the hell out of everyone watching them and thrashed the Titans 35-6, including three touchdowns for Chad Johnson

The Browns continued their surprise run to the playoffs with a 27-17 win over the Texans. Two more touchdowns for Derek Anderson took him to 22 for the season and he only needs one more to make him their most successful quarterback in thirty years.

The Bills, Panthers and Redskins were all even worse than usual and deservedly lost, but the 49ers at last managed a win, beating the Cardinals in overtime despite being second best all game. Of their three wins this year, two of them have been against Arizona.

The Dolphins lost to the last kick of the game again. What was remarkable was that, at the time, the match was tied at 0-0. Atrocious conditions meant that the pitch was barely playable and both they and the Steelers struggled horribly in the conditions. Even worse for the Dolphins was that they lost Ricky Williams for the rest of the season with an injury.

Finally, very sad news from Washington. The Redskins’ safety (think ‘centre back’) Sean Taylor has died after being shot by a burglar on Sunday night. He’s the second NFL player to die in a shooting this year.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Keeping a stiff upper lip - premcorrespondent

Over the decades of England has developed a great reputation on the world stage.

Never let it be said that we will compete in a tournament we consider unworthy of our great talents (recent Olympics, pre-in-50 World Cups, post 1970 World Cups, finals of major tournaments).

Never let it be said that we are not generous in giving stepping out of the spotlight to letter smaller teams shine (America 1950, Austria 1979, Wales 1980, Australia 2003)

But perhaps the greatest tradition in all England is our history of Great Goalkeepers - from Fatty Foulkes to Rotund Robbo.

And this weekend the skills of the English glovesman were once again on display.

Paul Robinson and Robert Green - England's numbers three and four (of five or six depending on whether Ben Foster and Chris Kirkland are fit) faced off in a London derby.

Both performed exquisitely, with a string of saves (one from a penalty - and we all know how accomplished English strikers are at taking those). But both were let down by Jonny Foreigners in their defence to concede. Nevertheless it is fair to say both men made their point, and earned one each for their teams.

It was therefore left to English numbers one and two to outdo them.

Duly David James calmly added to his record tally of clean sheets as Portsmouth won comfortably 2-0 against Birmingham, while the current wearer of the iconic England No 1 shirt Scott Carson let nothing past him as his Aston Villa side beat Middlesbrough (with their inferior Australian keeper) 3-0 away.

Another clean sheet went to Carl Cuddich at Chelsea - a keeper vastly improved since he qualified to play for England (although he remains behind Foster in the standings) - his heroic performance saw the blues record a good 2-0 win, despite some temperamental foreigner in his side being sent off.

Over in Manchester, Bolton managed to overcome their lack of a bulldog between the posts with some traditional English tackling against the clever continentals at Manchester United. With Yeoman Kevin Davis showing that flouncing Frenchy Patrice Evra what it means to play the game like a man. Evra was luck to stay on after petulantly kicking out at the stout-hearted Englishman - but his effete foreign kick missed like a cannon aimed at the Victory. Bolton duly won 1-0.

Our inferior Celtic cousins saw the error of their ways as well at Goodison Park. Lazy, stupid Oirishman Roy Keane (probably drunk on Guinness) lacked the wherewithal to defeat Everton captain Phil Neville's stout English hearts - with the blues pulverising Sunderland (which is suspiciously close to the Scottish border) 7-1. Goalkeeper Craig Gordon was busy looking for coins that had been dropped near the goal area for four of the goals and was enjoying a dram of whisky for the other three.

Down in London Celtic the complexions of Welshman Mark Hughes and the Northern (the good bit) Irish Laurie Sanchez showed their tactical naivety - both managers letting their side let two goals in, and failing to win. But things are harder in the Premier League than managing a bunch of second division "international" players. However, they are allowed to pick from the flower of English youth now, and duly both Warnock and Murphy scored for their side before having their good work undone by unreliable allies.

England's Sven Goran Eriksson showed the lack of judgement that saw him hounded from Every Single Manager's Dream Job by keeping English keeper Joe Hart on the bench. His side therefore let a goal in. Fortunately greasy and cowardly Italian Steve Coppello had picked an American to keep goal, and despite being allowed to use his hands (much like in the colonial's own version of the beautiful game) he let two balls into the "endzone". Sven's England connections assuring another domestic triumph.

Decorated Englishman Steven Gerrard scored the first, then set up colleagues for two more - displaying our Great National Qualities of modesty and fair-mindedness - as another Hapless Irish Keeper was beaten three times and Liverpool defeated (suspiciously close to the Scottish border) Newcastle 3-0 to round off truly another spiffing week for the Nation that gave birth to the beautiful game.

See you all at 2008, where our superiority will once again be demonstrated to massed ranks of awed spectators as we defend our crown as greatest footballing nation on earth.



Thursday, November 22, 2007

NFL Week 11 - the Velvet Bear

The USA celebrates Thanksgiving this week. On Thursday, the entire nation will take the day off to thank their own personal god for making them American. More quietly, the rest of the world will be thanking him for NOT making them American. What this does mean, though, is that there will be three NFL games played that day, rather than on Sunday. Which in turn means that you get a double dose of me this week.

Traditionally, Thanksgiving week is the week that the NFL turns serious, as teams start either looking towards the playoffs, or begin rebuilding for next season.

The playoffs are, broadly speaking, similar to those which determine promotion at the end of the football season here. The first objective of any team at the start of the season is to make the playoffs, which are in effect a knockout competition which ends with the Superbowl.

Being American, the NFL does make things a little complicated. In case you hadn't sussed it already, there are 32 teams in the NFL. These are split into two Conferences, the National Football Conference and the American Football Conference. Each Conference is then divided into four divisions, split geographically into north, south, east and west. To make the playoffs, a team has to either win their division, or be one of the best two other teams in the Conference. This means it is actually possible for one division to provide three of the six teams each Conference sends into the playoffs.

The reason why Thanksgiving week is important is that it is the twelfth week of the season. All teams have now had a week when they didn't play, so have played 10 games. With 16 games a season, it seems that the eleventh game is significant in telling who will and will not make the playoffs. On average, a side needs 9 wins to get there, so this week particularly marks the time when teams begin to give up and look at some of the fringe players. Oakland, for example, are clearly not expecting to get a win from their visit to the Chiefs this weekend. A defeat will leave them 2-9 and, although teams have reached the playoffs with a 7-9 record, they still have to play the Packers and the Colts, which means that 5-11 is probably the best they can aim for. With this in mind, they have already said that rookie quarterback JaMarcus Russell, the number one pick in this season's draft, will start for the first time in their twelfth game.

Statistically speaking, no team has yet reached the playoffs. It doesn't take a genius to work out that the unbeaten Patriots will be there, though. So will the Packers and the Cowboys, who are both 9-1. The reigning Superbowl champions, the Colts, spluttered back from two straight losses to beat the Chiefs on Sunday and are now 8-2 and should make it, too. After that, it is anyone's guess. The NFC looks particularly wide open, whilst in the AFC West no team has won more than 5 games anyway.

In fact, it is easier to say who won't be going to the playoffs. The Raiders have obviously given up. The 49ers are, frankly, rubbish and lost to the only team in their division, the St Louis Rams, on Sunday. All three sides are 2-8. Joining them in an underemployed new year will be the Falcons and, surprisingly, the Bengals, both of whom are 3-7. The Falcons' troubles we all know about, but the Bengals have one of the best quarterbacks around in Carson Palmer and two of the best receivers around in Chad Johnson and TJ Houshmanzadeh, yet have struggled in every game.

Also not going to the playoffs will be the New York Jets. They are also 2-8 and yet, despite being poor all season, are not bottom of their division, because that contains the Dolphins, who are still winless after somehow blowing a 7-0 lead to lose 7-17 to the Eagles at the weekend.

Theoretically, it is possible for any of the teams with just four wins – Ravens, Chiefs, Bears, Vikings, Panthers and Saints – to get through, but it would be a travesty if they did, as none of these sides is any good.

You might ask, incidentally, what the incentive is to keep playing your strongest side if you make the playoffs so early in the season. The answer is that the two teams with the best records in each Conference get a bye into the second week of the playoffs. The next two teams get to play at home against the 5th and 6th best teams. And the 5th and 6th places are usually up for grabs right up until the last week of the season. Exciting, eh?

This week's news:
- The Patriots score on each of their first seven possessions as they thrash the Bills 56-0. The eighth touchdown comes from an interception and Tom Brady and Randy Moss don't even play the last 11 minutes of the match.

- Tony Romo of the Cowboys throws four touchdowns to Terrell Owens as the Cowboys beat the Redskins 28-23.

- A Mike Nugent field goal in overtime gives the Jets a rare win as they beat the in-form Steelers 19-16.

- It's the battle of the zimmer frames in Wisconsin, as Brett Favre's Packers beat Vinny Testaverde's Panthers 31-17. Testaverde doesn't last the game and the Panthers use three different quarterbacks during it.

- Adam Viniateri atones for last week's miss by kicking the winning field goal with just four seconds left, as the Colts fumble and blunder their way past the Chiefs 13-10.

- An Adrian Peterson-less Vikings beat the Raiders 29-22, thanks in no small part to Chester Taylor, who stands in for Peterson and runs in three touchdowns.

- The Lions lost their unbeaten home record and somehow failed to beat the Giants, despite having two chances to win the game in the last two minutes. On both occasions Jeff Kitna threw an interception instead of a game-winning pass to Shaun McDonald. And for those of you who think that American footballers are soft, the Giants' Mathias Kiwanuka broke his leg on the second play of the game and still walked off the field.

- Absolute chaos at the end of the game in Baltimore. The Ravens thought they had stolen the match when the Browns' Phil Dawson hit the posts with a 51 yard field goal attempt from the last kick of the game. They were walking off the pitch when the referee overruled the call and said that the ball had hit the stanchion at the back of the posts, therefore the kick was good – television replays confirmed this. The players came back out again, the match went into overtime and Dawson kicked another goal to give the Browns a 33-30 win.

- Michael Vick finally went to jail this week, turning himself in three weeks early. Guess he couldn't find anyone to share Thanksgiving with. Possibly joining him will be Cato June of the Buccaneers, who was caught drink driving this week.

- Also this week, a horse collar cost Adrian Wilson of the Cardinals $10,000 – a 'horse collar' being the name for a tackle around the neck of a player.

- Finally, some nice news, seeing as it is Thanksgiving. Kevin Everett came out of medical rehab this week. He is still in a wheelchair, but slowly building up strength and still hopes to walk again.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Joy and despair are closer than you think - Byebyebadman

I imagine few people in England would remember the midfielder Ryszard Tarasiewicz. He played most of his career with Slasc Wroclaw in his native Poland before leaving a nation finding its way back to democracy in 1989 and playing out his career in Switzerland and France. He is the joint twenty-fourth most capped player in Polish history, with one solitary World Cup appearance for his depleted national team in Mexico in 1986, where Poland were hammered four-nil by the Brazil of Socrates, Junior and Careca.

And yet rather than be a mere footnote in international football history the name Tarasiewicz could have haunted English football as much as Maradona, Van Basten, Ronaldinho or his fellow countryman Jan Tomaszewski. In Katowice in October 1989, as England and Poland entered the dying seconds of a tense and goalless final World Cup qualifier, Tarasiewicz struck a shot at goal from thirty yards out that had a flailing Peter Shilton utterly beaten. The ball swung in the air, thumped the England crossbar and bounced down and back into play for defenders to scramble it clear. Seconds later the final whistle sounded and England had qualified for the World Cup.

Had the ball gone in then Poland would have taken England’s place at Italia 90, a tournament in which England’s dramatic run to the brink of the Final is credited as being at least partly responsible for the great changes in English football and its subsequent boom in popularity. How different might English football have been? And all for the sake of an inch, a couple of centimetres. As Juan Sasturain remarked when describing the same fractions that denied Rob Rensenbrink and the Dutch the World Cup against Argentina in 1978: “The distance between heaven and hell.”

England will shortly play Croatia in the final qualifier for next year's European Championships, and it does amuse me that large sections of England’s support are perplexed as to why we are in a position where we require a win or a draw to advance to the Finals. We are England I’m afraid, and this is what we do. Only once in my lifetime have England ever qualified for a tournament without requiring a result in the final game, and all too often it has been in jeopardy in the final seconds. Christian Vieri missed a free header in injury time that put England through to the 1998 World Cup, and famously a very late David Beckham free-kick saved England against Greece to qualify for the World Cup in Japan and South Korea. At least on those occasions existed the safety net of the play-offs, but no such get-out clause is in place to save England on Wednesday if they lose and Russia, as expected, beat Andorra. Croatia of course have nothing really to play for - but then neither did Greece.

So don’t be surprised if England enter injury time against Croatia with everything - qualification, McClaren’s job, several England careers, the FA’s finances - still in the balance. And should a Croatian let fly in the manner of Ryszard Tarasiewicz and hit the frame of our goal time will stand still as we wait to see where the ball will land, and joy and despair, two emotions that power football, will never have been in closer proximity.

Friday, November 16, 2007

NFL week 10 - the Velvet Bear

One of the biggest problems writing about the NFL this week is the fact that there has been so little to write about. Seriously. In fact, I was almost reduced to reporting that the Patriots were unbeaten again this week - but only because they had a bye and so weren’t playing.

I could report that the Dolphins lost again, blowing a 10-2 lead to lose at home to the Bills. Bills kicker Rian Lindell kicked the winning field goal with 46 seconds remaining to give Buffalo victory. It’s getting to be desperate in Miami and their latest solution will be to give rookie quarterback John Beck a starting role against the Eagles this weekend. It is a big ask for the second round draft pick against an Eagles side who put 20 fourth quarter points on the board to beat the Redskins at the weekend and who are starting to show true signs of running into some form. The Dolphins still believe they can turn a 0-9 start into a moderately successful 7-9 season, but you’d be a fool to bet on it.

One bright spot for Miami is the return from suspension of Ricky Williams. The running back, the NFL’s top rusher in 2002, was suspended for 18 months after he failed four - yes, four - drug tests. Whether he can revitalise such a poor team after so long out is debatable, but any news is good news so far as this team is concerned.

The Dolphins are now the only side in the NFL without a win, after the St Louis Rams beat the New Orleans Saints 37-29. Key to the Rams win was the return of star running back Steven Jackson, who has been missing for most of the season with a back injury. He ran in one touchdown and threw for another as the Rams finally got their season started.

Perhaps the most interesting news of the week was the edict from the NFL that match officials should eject players from the game for so-called ‘helmet to helmet’ hits - i.e. where a player deliberately goes for another player’s head with his head. Ejection is equivalent to a sending off in football or rugby, except that the side who has a player ejected gets to replace him (the same happens in basketball). The sanction is very rarely used in the NFL, it happens about once a season, but as we have seen this year the league is getting tough on on-field discretions (heck, this week was so dull, no-one even got fined for that) and it will be interesting to see how often, if at all, this sanction is used.

In the rest of the news this week:

- A very rough week for the Vikings. They suffered their first shutout in about 15 seasons as Green Bay beat them 34-0. Along the way they lost Adrian Peterson with a knee injury that will keep him out for at least one game and picked up some seriously bad publicity for docking the salary of receiver Troy Williamson when he went to his grandmother’s funeral - a decision they later had to reverse.

- Also shut out were the 49ers, handing an easy 24-0 win to the Seahawks in Monday night’s game. The loss has cost quarterback Alex Smith his job, with veteran Trent Dilfer taking over for this weekend.

- The Manning boys also had a bad week. Peyton threw an unprecedented six interceptions as the Colts lost 21-23 to the Chargers, Colts kicker Adam Viniateri missing a field goal with the last kick of the game which would’ve won it. Eli was simply dreadful for the Giants against the Cowboys, even allowing himself to be sacked by the returning Tank Johnson as Dallas won 31-20, courtesy of two more touchdowns from Terrell Owens. Interestingly, that game was run by only 6 officials after the 7th pulled a hamstring early in the game - you have enough players to put three entirely different sides on the pitch but no-one thinks to bring a spare official.

- Those who were paying attention last week will recall that I mentioned that the Panthers had no fit and match-ready quarterbacks. Vinny Testaverde gamely limped through their home game against the Falcons, which no 44 year old should have to do. There was a time when he could probably have beaten this year’s Falcons on one leg and he almost did it now, Alge Crumpler’s touchdown with twenty seconds left giving Atlanta a 20-13 win.

- Shock of the week came at the Raiders, where Rex Grossman - yes, him - came off the bench to replace the injured Brian Griese and threw the winning touchdown to give the Bears a much-needed victory by 17-6. He’ll keep his place on Sunday, too.

- A big day for Big Ben as Mr Roethlisberger had his best game of the season, throwing two touchdowns, running one in for himself from 30 yards and picking up the NFL Player of the Week award for only the second time in his career. Victory over the Browns came at a cost for the Steelers, though, as safety Ryan Clark was so badly injured he had to have his spleen removed. For the Browns, Derek Anderson became their first quarterback for 20 years to throw 20 touchdowns in a season, but it wasn’t enough to stop them losing 31-28

- On the disciplinary front, Pacman Jones has had a plea bargain accepted by a judge, so won’t stand trial over the lap dance club incident. In a novel move - at least for a footballer - Fred Weary of the Houston Texans is actually suing the police, after they shot him with a Taser gun. All of which means that both are likely to escape any or any further sanction from the league.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

St Pancras, French footballers' terminus – by Marcel des Maures et des Aurores

To celebrate the grand opening of the new Paris Nord-St Pancras train line, French TV channel Canal + launched, during my recent visit to Paris, a "Semaine Anglaise": London on a plate for a week. From the breakfast show to the late night news, most of the channel's programs, including special guests and features, dealt with England. It started brightly, with "Allons donc à London" in which Antoine de Caunes, the trendy frenchy vamped down as Pete Doherty, delights in finding lunatics and eccentrics such as that militant who camps out in front of the Parliament to voice his opposition to British involvement in Iraq. Londres wouldn't be London without music, and Sir Paul Mc Cartney's concert at the Olympia (last October) will be broadcast on Friday at 10.30 pm.

"Canal + is Rich", undoubtedly so. Through TV rights, the channel provides around 50% of French football clubs' income, transfers excluded. In other words, gates receipts only make up a measly 15% of that income. Like Canal +, that set its clocks on London time, French football would do well to take a few leaves out of the Premier League's accounting books and also try to understand how its own national team's success brought about its national league's demise.

By regularly losing its star players, the French Ligue 1 has lost its attractiveness. So called "big games" between Lyon, Marseille, or Paris SG (the last OL-OM being the exception that proves the rule) don't have the intensity of the Italian derbys, of the Real-Barca classico, or of the duels at the top of the English League. Neither Sky Sports nor the Italian Rai broadcast any of the Ligue 1 matches. Meanwhile Arsenal-Manchester United got a billion people glued to their TV sets, eager to watch Rooney, C.Ronaldo, Giggs, Gallas and Fabregas slug it out. The programme notes read like credits for a movie in which the players have taken on the actors' role in people's hearts.

The mystical dimension of Italian football was highlighted by Dino Bazzatti after the Superga disaster. In 1949, the novelist declared that the crash of a plane loaded with famous writers would not have moved his compatriots quite so deeply. Obviously, the dangers of such an excess of enthusiasm are clear, as recent events in Italy have confirmed. However, in contrast with latin excesses, British moderation has proved that the fortunes of an endangered championship could be turned around. After doing a meticulous cleaning job to improve safety in their stadia, the English invested close to 1.5 billion Euros (if it wasn't for the fact that they insist on calling them Pounds) to turn their sporting arenas into profit centers where fans splash their cash.

Conversely, the French missed out on the unique opportunity presented by World Cup 98 to renovate their infrastructure sufficiently. Today, le Stade de France is the only stadium deemed fit to host a Champions' League final. In order to compete with great European sporting nations, it is absolutely essential for France to modernise its football venues. Nearly all stadia in the country belong to local authorities, which hinders their development. It would be necessary to combine public financing with brand sponsorship deals like Arsenal's Emirates Stadium, but some are still reluctant. "I can't imagine Sochaux's Stade Bonal being called Stade "Mobil". For his part in the résistance, Auguste Bonal was executed by a firing squad shortly before the end of the war. I will not sell my soul," declared the Chairman of Sochaux Football Club.

Certainly, Lyon is the exception. But in the long run, if Jean-Michel Aulas, their president and Ligue 1's main agent provocateur, keeps on selling his best players, he runs the risk of seeing his team play in a bigger stadium, but to a smaller crowd. The players' exodus and the talent drain must be checked if not stopped entirely. In the last two years, Lyon lost Essien, Diarra, Malouda, and Abidal; Marseille lost Drogba and Ribery, amongst others. The total amount of last summer's transfer fees approaches the 200 million Euro mark. Now the clubs are wondering how long they will be able to hold on to Benzema, Ben Arfa or Nasri, what with Real Madrid, Barça and Inter Milan already waving their chequebooks. A league can only be popular if the people who actually go to the games can watch their internationals wearing the local colours.

The French league can make up lost ground by multiplying growth leverages and, like the Premier League did, by acknowledging simple economic truths and reducing charges in order to offer players more attractive salaries.

It would be naïve to deny that economics dictate the rules of professional sports. Norman Mailer wrote of his passion for "ransacking innocence", to make the point that naïveté no longer has a place in the modern world of television and high-capital media. Having built its reputation on cinema and football, Canal + had a great opportunity to use its "English Week" to boost motivation for a transformation that the channel would be first to benefit from: a special show analysing the achievements and success of the "Barclays League", for example. If France fails to learn from the English, the Eurostar will transport ever increasing loads of young French players towards their final destination: St Pancras, in the very heart of London.

Let me paint you a picture - premcorrespondent

Sorry for the slow reporting - I felt that I couldn't truly tell the tale of the weekend's action without placing it in the full context of tonight's Johnstone's Paint Trophy results.

And truly this added colour and has been worth waiting for.

White-washing seems all the rage, not only were Yeovil beaten 1-0 by Swansea, but West Ham rinsed Derby 5-0. Derby have been taken to the cleaners so often this season it's hard to work out what colour their strip was originally - but it's faded to white now.

Eight of the Premier League's sides took up the Daz Challenge - all keeping spotlessly clean sheets. West Ham, Liverpool, Bolton, Boro, Man U, Pompey, City, and Spurs all made sure their bed linen was in a fit state to receive a special friend.

Bolton and Middlesbrough both seemed too intent on impressing the ladies with their domesticity to actually bother with scoring in the first place. And unless you have some potency up front and the wherewithal to use it, all the bleached bedclothes in the world will get you about as far as an agoraphobic tortoise in a pool of treacle.

The second double-oh of the weekend was one where the only licence to thrill belonged to young City keeper Joe Hart. An impressive display from the England under-21 stopper meant Harry Redknapp's language turned as blue as his player's kits as Pompey were held to a draw on the south coast.

Juande Ramos' time in charge of Spurs has seen the Lillywhites record three clean sheets in his four matches, which is verging on obsessive-compulsive. This weekend saw the North Londoners continue in their quest to throw off their reputation as the league's worst dog-walkers as they resolutely held on to their lead against Wigan to climb out of the top flight's bottom reaches.

The reds halves of Manchester and Liverpool were the remaining domestic goddesses, both winning 2-0 at home to Blackburn and Fulham respectively.

Liverpool's and Fulham's neighbours locked horns at Stamford Bridge - but neither could protect their unblemished bed-wear or score more than once in 90 minutes. Everton and Chelsea's Uefa Cup decider ended 1-1. How things have changed at Stamford Bridge since Jose left - now there was a man who knew his grooming, just 61 conceded in his three full seasons in charge finishing each year with the best defence.

Arsenal strolled past Reading with a 3-1 win, seeing them finish the weekend's fixtures at the top of the pile and responsible for the most dirty laundry - they have scored in every league game this season.

In the North-East and the Midlands local rivals renewed their acquaintances after a trial separation enforced by relegation. Sunderland drew 1-1 with Newcastle, while Birmingham lost 2-1 at home to Aston Villa. These games were ruined by one hack's inability to think of fresh paint analogies mangle more bedlinen metaphors.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

We Will remember them - Ebren

On the 25th of March 1918, just months from the end of World War One, a professional footballer was shot in the second assault on the Somme. His fellow soldiers risked death to get to him, his body was never found.

The story is far from unique, but the solider was. His name was Walter Tull.

Tull had it harder than most, an orphan from the age of nine, his stepmother could not manage all six of her husband's children. Walter and his older brother Edward were sent to an orphanage in Bethnal Green, London.

The Methodist teachings of the orphanage were strict, disciplined and arguably stood Walter in good stead for his later life in football and the army.

He started playing football early and soon excelled. Spotted playing for the orphanage team he was invited to join amateur site Clapton in 1908. He helped them win the FA Amateur Cup, the London Senior Cup and the London County Amateur Cup.

He was signed for Spurs in 1909, he toured Argentina and Uruguay with the team as an amateur, signing professional forms on his return to England.

But despite all the early promise, rave reviews against Manchester United and a goal against Bradford, seven games into his first season he was dropped. There was a problem - Walter Tull was black.

Playing at Bristol City he was racially abused with "language lower than Billingsgate [a notoriously coarse London fish market]" by "hooligans" in the crowd - the actions of fans and the press reports describing them eerily reminiscent of what was to follow on terraces across the land over 50 years later.

Tull was sold to Northampton Town and excelled, playing more than 100 games, scoring four goals in one match (he wasn't a striker) and looking set to sign for Rangers in 1914. Then the war came.

He signed up to fight for the British army as a volunteer immediately, effectively ending his football career (although he did make a guest appearance for Fulham in 1915).

Tull was the second professional black footballer in England and the first outfield player, goalscorer and to play in the top flight.

What he did in uniform was more impressive.

Quickly promoted to sergeant Tull survived the Somme in 1916, but was struck down by fever in December 1916. After recovery he did not return to the trenches immediately, instead he went to officer training school in Gailes, Scotland.

Walter Tull became the first ever black British army officer and the first man of colour to lead white troops in battle, at a time when it was illegal for him to take on either role.

He was mentioned in despatches for coolness under fire and recommended for the Military Cross after bringing his men back unharmed from a sortie.

An orphan whose grandfather was a slave and father was a joiner had broken down barriers to become a professional footballer and an officer. On his death, his commanding officer breached protocol one last time, writing this while informing his family of his death: "He was popular throughout the battalion. He was brave and conscientious. The battalion and company had lost a faithful officer, and personally I have lost a friend." British army officers didn't do emotion back then.

But after his death he was forgotten by the nation.

It was not until the mid-1990s that Walter's story re-emerged, when Phil Vasili saw his name mentioned in passing while researching a book on Britain's earliest black footballers in 1992. He published an article on Tull in 1996 that was read by Trevor McDonald. The newsreader gave a radio talk based on this research - one heard by Northampton Town fan Sean O'Donovan.

O'Donovan started campaigning, and soon everyone from Spurs (who dropped him) to Bristol City (whose fans abused him) were honouring Tull's role in the early days of the game.

Today, almost 90 years after his death, visitors to Northampton Town's Sixfields Stadium can see an odd memorial - one in a mosaic of black, white, and grey stone.

It reads: "Through his actions, WDJ Tull ridiculed the barriers of ignorance that tried to deny people of colour equality with their contemporaries.

"His life stands testament to a determination to confront those people and those obstacles that sought to diminish him and the world in which he lived.

"It reveals a man, though rendered breathless in his prime, whose strong heart still beats loudly."

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