Saturday, April 12, 2008

Everyone likes to swim, don’t they? - Mimitig

When I did my review of 2007 I didn’t mention the GB Swimming team at all – and that’s not so surprising because at the end of last year it seemed that we might have a slight crisis on our hands. Aussie Bill Sweetenham who had been employed at great expense by GB Swimming had not returned the results that we wanted at various championships and had caused much dissent amongst the swimmers. Several, including Mark Foster had “retired” in protest.

However since Mr Bill’s departure (did he go or was he pushed?), the GB Team has gone from strength to strength and I feel it is time to draw some success to the attention of the denizens of Pseuds.

As I write, the temporary short course pool in Manchester is hosting The World Short Course Championships and Great Britain lie second only to the US of A. They have won the most medals overall, but of course it’s golds that count. We are not beating the Yanks, but surprisingly, we are beating the Aussies. Perhaps Bill’s regime is now paying dividends. Almost every swimmer is clocking personal bests even when they are not winning medals. It is a performance to be savoured and enjoyed. And, we are told by the experts, that this is exactly the right time, pre-Olympics, to be turning in life-time bests.

It might be something about Manchester. In last month’s Track Cycling World Champs, Team GB swept the board and laid down some very serious markers for Beijing. Star performers included Chris “The Real McHoy” Hoy; Bradley “I have the hair and will use it” Wiggins and Victoria “I’m lovely and am quite prepared to pose naked for Observer Sports Monthly” Pendleton. All got double golds and everyone else did their bit too.

Jamie Staff – won his medal then spent an awful lot of time with Hazel from the BBC – told us that the velodrome had been resurfaced and so when you crash now, you don’t have to worry about 10 inch splinters up your thigh – a fate that has befallen him before now. Perhaps this lack of injury fear helped our boys and girls. I think it helped Brad and Our Cav (Mark Cavendish) in their spectacular performance in the Madison. This is the most difficult to understand and dangerous of the track cycle races. Involving teams from 10 or so countries, two men have to complete what seem like endless circuits, switching lead man from one to another at high speeds and avoid all crashes. Cav and Brad at one point were at least one lap down, but they read it well, timed their attacks perfectly and won.

Job done.

And as we return now to Manchester, and the strains of the Verve’s Bittersweet Melody keep ringing out almost as often as that dull old God Save the Queen, it seems that our GB swimmers have decided to carry the mantle of our winning cyclists and go out there and bloody well win a few races.

There are still a couple of days to go in this World Championship Short Course Swimming thing, but anyone who has watched the likes of Liam Tancock, Kirsty Balfour, Becky Adlington, Kate Haywood and of course the old man of the sport, Mark Foster – 37 years-old and just won a silver medal – well, it stirs the spirit. It is easy to get a bit carried away now and think that perhaps we’ll win some medals in non-sitting down sports this summer.

Of course just now, all the talk pre-Olympics, is to do with the progress of The Torch. London, Paris and San Francisco have allowed demonstrations to take as many headlines as the progress of the torch. Politicos of all colour are spouting the usual rubbish about the Olympics being non-political. We know that sport and politics have been intertwined for most of our lives if not before – I can’t be the only Pseud to remember cricket grounds being sabotaged in the name of anti-apartheid protest.

I’m not sure what to think about the bigger picture, but right now, I think it’s about time we celebrated a very very big chunk of success for our swimmers. Tonight I think we finish with about 11 medals. Two more days to go.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Who is that driving away from Craven Cottage? – PremCorrespondent

A white Fiat, Bob Hoskins, and a bloke who once had breakfast in the same cafĂ© as Prince Philip but claims he never met him. All these and more have been blamed for Fulham’s relegation this season.

Their insane owner and put upon manager declared the Premier League a terrible conspiracy and called for an inquest into the ludicrous claims of an idiot minority that they are not yet relegated.

However, the Metropolitan Police said that the points had in fact been taken perfectly legitimately by an Irish maniac who frightens his own team, and who was last seen driving a happy Sunderland towards mid-table obscurity.

The Police also made a statement on recent claims that Derby were not really dead, and had been spotted on a trailer park near Memphis. The reports were quickly refuted, the police said, when the side was exhumed and beaten 1-0 by a tired and bored Everton side looking forward to another few European games next season.

And completing the book of the damned, Bolton showed clubs the terror that could result if they lose the only good manager likely to take their helm for the next fifty years. Quick action by brave locals ensured that only a handful of innocent trotters were hurt by the 4-0 terror attack at Aston Villa, who hinted afterwards that the Irish might have been to blame.

Higher up the table, Sir Alex Fergusson threw away two easy points just so people pay attention while he wins another title. The Italian Mafia are being investigated following claims that they fixed the match that saw Man U. slip to comfortably top. The club responded that they were rested on the pretence that a midweek Champion’s League walkover of a home leg mattered more than Boro.

And by comfortably ahead, I do of course mean ahead of Avram Grant’s Blue Army. Dissent in the ranks has seemingly ceased during his run of recent victories. And reports that high profile failures in big games were used as a distraction while the club secretly funnelled enriched resources into a title bid were strongly denied.

That said, a 2-0 win over Manchester City did a disservice to the lighter shade of blue, who deserved a six nil hammering for such an inept display. They looked like a team that has won just one in their last sixteen, and frankly you have to question how the one came about.

Arsene Wenger doesn’t seem to understand conspiracy. He kidded no one anywhere when he told the lie that his side could still win the league after a 1-1 draw against Liverpool’s reserves. However, the interweb is awash with taxi drivers who drove Rafa home only to be told he’d made a bundle with some Malaysian’s by repeating the Champion’s League first leg result.


West Ham lost to Portsmouth who strenuously denied both that their manager was in any way dodgy, or that their FA Cup Final place was thanks to tediously dull football.

And Newcastle beat Reading while Spurs drew with Blackburn in games I don’t have time to write about because two men in sunglasses and raincoats have just knocked at my door.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A long draft of NFL - the Velvet Bear

If it is April, it means it is Draft time in the NFL. For the uninitiated, each year the 32 NFL teams get to pick from the cream of the nation’s college footballers over the course of a long and at times tedious weekend in April. They then commit themselves to paying vast sums of money to young men who might never be good enough to play in the NFL. Let’s face it, when you have a 7 month close season, you have to keep people interested somehow.

You’d be wrong to think that this one weekend was the be all and end all of it. Oh no. Draft season began just three weeks after the Superbowl, with the Scouting Combine. You’ve seen those films of army conscripts doing physical exercises back in the 1950s? Believe me, it lives on at the Combine.

Up to 350 of potential Draftees are invited to work out in front of NFL scouts, coaches, managers, owners, journalists and anyone else who takes a prurient interest in sweaty young men. They are timed over a 40-yard run, perform bench presses and standing jumps and then display the skills relevant to their particular position. And they do interview after interview after interview.

The Combine itself rarely resolves anything. It comes right at the end of the college season, so some of the top players will have minor injuries, some will decide to only do part of the event and save themselves for March’s stage of the circus (see below) and some will perform so far above or below expectations that those watching them will be confused rather than enlightened. It might serve to weed out the terminally dim ones – such as the player this year who had to skip virtually everything because he’d had laser eye surgery too soon before the event – but that is about it.

After the rampant homoeroticism of the Combine, the next stage is the College work out. This is when those players attracting enough interest hold a day at their own college to show off their talents, working with their regular teammates. This is probably the best chance some of the students, particularly the quarterbacks, will get to show what they can do. At least one quarterback shot up the rankings this year as a result of his college day.

Finally, a select few, those who are likely to go in the first ten or so picks come Draft day, will have been invited to try out for various teams behind closed doors. Which is the closest that the whole crazy circus gets to anything which happens in the UK version of the game.

Next time, I’ll explain how the Draft works and maybe even name some names.

In other news, the Patriots shocked everyone by apologising for Spygate. Or, at least, apologising for bringing it upon the heads of the NFL. They didn’t, of course, admit to doing anything very wrong. In fact, whilst owner Robert Kraft threw himself at the mercy of his fellow owners, Bill Belichick was still claiming it was simply a case of him misinterpreting the rules. Which makes Bill Clinton’s denials sound positively believable.

This all happened at the NFL’s annual owners and coaches meeting. Also on the table was a proposal by the Kansas City Chiefs to ban players from having hair so long that it obscured the name and number on their jersey.

This got put off for a decision at another meeting next month, by which time someone will hopefully have taken a grip of themselves and realised what a trivial, pointless thing this is to get worked up over.

In three decades of watching this sport I have yet to see a player injured by an opponent’s hair. I have, on the other hand, seen plenty get flattened by the likes of Troy Polamalu. Personally, I reckon that the flying barnet must make him more visible. Why anyone would want to change that is beyond me.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The FA Cup's upsetting final – Ebren

Harry Redknapp – the nicest man in football – has finally made it to a final. And he's done it with former Championship strugglers Pompey. His CV currently includes no wins of any note (no, the Johnstone's Paint Trophy or whatever it was called back then doesn't count).

And we should be happy. We really should. But I'm not.

Because he didn't beat Chelsea or Liverpool to get there. Barnsley did that. He didn't beat Arsenal – that was Man U. He beat Man U in a travesty of a result. That might be applauded. And if he had beaten premier league opposition in the semi I would be happy.

But he didn't.

For all the glamour of the cup – and the frequency and impressiveness of the upsets – money won both semi finals.

Portsmouth are not a true plucky little club made good (for that read Wigan – or in the past Wimbledon or Southampton who have all made finals in the last 20 years). They have been funded to their success by Milan Mandric and Alexandre Gaydamark.

They are not an example of English success (nine Englishmen in a first-team squad of 35 – and one of those is cup-tied). Including Brits and those out on loan this number increases to 11. West Brom have 16. And while they aspire to playing "good" football, their success this weekend was based on two clean sheets.

Their win represents a triumph for a club chasing Europe – with internationals from eight countries on display – over one chasing a place in the Premier League based on money brought in by local support. It was a won by a goal created by a handball from the former top-scorer in the European Championships and European Cup winner and scored by a Nigerian who has won the FA Cup, the Premier League, and the European Cup. (Kanu has, to be fair, also been relegated and is about 50).

Their manager is a proper east London bloke – Happy Go Lucky Harry. Styled in the Terry Venables mould. And, no, that's not necessarily a good thing.

And that's not looking at Cardiff.

Cardiff aren't English. They left their home league chasing money and "better competition". They beat the people that did the hard work for them (Chelsea and Liverpool knocked out). They are owned by Peter Risedale (who it's nice to see re-employed Stephen McFail after his Leeds days) and have – amongst others – Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbank, Trevor Sinclair and Robbie Fowler in their squad. Barnsley slipped into the relegation zone this weekend, while Cardiff are safe and arguably pushing for a play-off spot.

Cardiff are less odious than Pompey – but still. After a FA Cup of shocks and revelations, the semi-finals were upsetting in an entirely different way.

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