Friday, November 14, 2008

SPOTY: Chris Gayle – Zephirine

My nomination for Overseas Sports Personality of the Year is Chris Gayle, Captain of the Stanford Cricket Superstars and recent winner of a million dollars.

For anyone who’s been in the Sahara, in rehab, on the space shuttle or otherwise out of reach of the sports media lately, I should explain that on November 1st this year Texan millionaire Allen Stanford hosted the ‘20/20 for 20’ match at his own cricket ground in Antigua. His Superstars team vs the England national side – the winners to share $20 million, the losers to get nothing.

This sledgehammer incentive drove the media crazy, as intended. UK newspapers were full of articles about how this was the death of the game, the noble traditions were being abandoned in favour of meretricious cricket-for-dummies, at the behest of a crass moneybags who was openly bored by five-day, pure, real Test cricket. Pundits opined and blogs buzzed.

Meanwhile, the Superstars team started an intensive training programme, captained by Chris Gayle, a 29-year-old Jamaican left-handed batsman with attitude. West Indies international cricket is complicated and like most Boards the WICB is unpopular. Now Gayle had a chance to work with his team, some of them newcomers, away from the political problems and sponsorship in-fighting.

The England players were accused by the media of being mercenaries while constantly being asked what they would spend the money on. It was assumed they would win. Pink Ferraris were mentioned. But once in Antigua, they fell apart: on the day, they gave a truly appalling display as the winner-takes-all pressure visibly did their heads in, and set the Superstars a target of only 100 runs to win.

Gayle and his team played with verve, athleticism, concentration and apparently no nerves. They knocked off the 100 runs in 12 overs, with Gayle scoring a succession of sixes. They got the runs and took the money.

And this is why I am nominating Gayle: because it did his head in too. Later he admitted he felt “really stressed out” - he needed the money to pay for medical treatment for his brother and his father. But he conquered the nerves. At the wicket he was all confidence, and it conveyed to his team.

In the end, the match didn’t belong to Stanford, it belonged to the Superstars. They transcended the image of a rich man’s playthings and took control of the moment, and that was down to the leadership of Chris Gayle. In an era when sports are more and more dominated by wealthy investors, on Antigua’s Independence Day he showed exactly how to deal with that. No matter how much controversy and razzmatazz the rich guys create while promoting their brands, if you play the sport supremely well you can take it away from them and bring it back where it belongs - to the players and the fans.

Who Should win The Sports Personality of the Year, and Why? - mimitig

Over the years there has been a fundamental problem with this BBC award. Is the winner a Personality or a supreme achiever in their sport?

This year will no doubt ask that question again as 2008 has been a year of great achievement for so many sportsmen and women, but how many have imprinted their characters upon us?

For me, there is only one winner. Mark Cavendish – the Manx Express.

Cav is undoubtedly a personality – and by winning four stages of the 2008 Tour de France, he has achieved something never before done by a British cyclist. The Grand Depart this year was in Britanny – spiritual home of cycling – and yet rather low-key compared to the previous “spectacle” in London. But it all went well and as the peloton rolled through the countryside we came to Chateauroux.

Cav punched his fist into the air as he won his first stage.

Stage Eight and Toulouse saw his second stage win – the bunch loomed out of the misty spray, and mouth wide open, Mark Cavendish was first across the line again. Stage 12. 168.5 km from Lavelanet to Narbonne. Cav won the sprint and stage again with style and insouciance after such a bad day for the Tour when Ricco tested positive and the Saunier-Duvel team withdrew.

Mark rode with courage and guts and refused to be bowed by others troubles, or his own injuries.

Narbonne to Nimes, just one day and 182 hard kilometres later, Cav took his fourth stage win in the world’s toughest sporting endeavour. Bleeding but triumphant, as he came over the line Mark held up four fingers, and a bandaged arm to show the world that British cyclists can win, and win clean. A big grin as well, Mark knew that he had broken all records for British cyclists in the Big Race. The interviews were full of his outrageously confident personality and all the better for it.

His next job was The Madison with Bradley Wiggins in Beijing, and as we know, it didn’t work for them. He was one of the very few British cyclists to come away from China without a medal.

In addition to Cavendish’s superb performance in Le Tour, this is another reason why he deserves the SPOTY – he has never complained about the Olympics, never criticised Brad for putting his hunt for the Team and Individual Pursuit Golds ahead of Mark’s one and only chance.

Cav is a professional. And has the most sunshine-bringing smile that I have seen on a sportsman for a very long time.

It would be joyous to think that the amazing success that the GB Cyclists had in Beijing, added to by the almost embarrassing success in Manchester at the first round of the World Cup (you’re not Team GB? Oh sorry, you won’t win anything!), might make the general public vote for a cyclist. That’s if he’s even nominated, of course.

Who should win the sports personality of the year award? - PrivateDic

It was an award for losers, said Joe Calzaghe—although not, sadly, in his acceptance speech of 2007. Calzaghe’s success as BBC Sports Personality proved himself wrong, but there is something odd about the list of winners of the tacky tripod trophy. It’s not that they’re losers, exactly—only 4 of the last 20 Personalities were plucky runners-up, and ’94 Personality Damon Hill later became world champion. What’s really puzzling about this hall of ‘fame’ is the preponderance of sports about which, in truth, we couldn’t give a monkey’s.

Zara Phillips was a controversial winner in the year of Calzaghe’s outburst, but while it’s not her fault that she won, she remains symbolic of everything that’s wrong with the cult of Personality. How many of her 221,000 voters had ever attended an equestrian event? How many watched on TV? How many had even made dressage-related smalltalk at the watercooler? We don’t know her greatest rivals, or her strengths and weaknesses. All we know is that she’s very English, very Establishment, and won a shiny medal—and that, depressingly, is the formula for Personality success. Phillips’ mother, Princess Anne, modestly attributes her 1971 win to the lack of competition; the runners-up were George Best and Barry John.

Steve Redgrave was voted Personality of Personalities on the award’s 50th anniversary, but who are we kidding when we call ourselves Redgrave fans? Like Phillips, he competes in an ultra-minority sport that reeks of the English public school, and which few of us notice for the 208 consecutive weeks between Olympic finals. The widespread admiration for Redgrave’s success is really about believing him a symbol of Great Britishness, living proof that our Establishment and institutions are hopeful and glorious. While Redgrave dipped his oar, Brittania continued to rule the waves for Personality voters.

If the Personalities are to reflect our real sporting passions, we need more losers. Kelly Holmes is a brilliant middle-distance runner, but 2004 was really the year of Wayne Rooney’s arrival at the Euros. Personality Fatima Whitbread hurled a javelin 76 metres for gold in ’87, but Clive Allen scored an incredible 49 goals while missing out on League and both Cups for Spurs. A question hovers over the silver tripod, awkward as a fart at a job interview: who the hell votes for this thing?

Assuredly not the superfans at Anfield, Thomond Park or Eden Gardens, where sport finds its soul and fans meld with players in what might pretentiously be called symbiosis. Nor is it the mythical Cornish ManU fan, sofa-bound and sad, but passionate and informed nonetheless. A strange truth emerges: this is a sports award where the voters don’ t like sport.

So, who should win this year? It’s surely a three-horse race. Establishment, elitist and brilliantly esoteric, it has to be Blonde One, Two or Three from the nation’s favourite keelboat. I can’t remember any of their names, or who they beat, and I’ve no inkling what an yngling looks like. Now that’s Personality.

Sports [Personality] 2008: Out of Africa - PHil West

November means factories stopping production, farmers neglecting their crops and animals, and Apple executives wondering why teenagers have stopped downloading music.

Why? Because everyone is swept along by the maelstrom surrounding who will be this year’s Sports Personality. Not.

For my choice we need to agree on some ground rules.

1) Drop the ‘personality’ tag. (Davies, Mansell, Hill, H.R.H).

My candidate is shy, quiet, and unknown to all but a few.

2) Accept that we Brits treasure glorious failure as much as glorious success. (Rusedski, Gascoigne)

My candidate had a ‘failure’ to die for.

3) Athletics is the greatest sport on the planet. (OK, this may prove difficult for those who like show-jumpinzzzz… - my apologies to both of them.)

My candidate is an athlete named Elvan Abeylegesse.

Born in Ethiopia, as a teenager she was overlooked by their talent scouts and so came to live and train in Istanbul. The Turkish press were initially more interested in the now disgraced Süreyha Ayhan, but she trained hard and became a serious contender at all the distances from 1500m to 10,000m.

Like David Bedford, she is capable of world records alone, but uncomfortable when running in the pack. Like him she tries to wear the opposition down, hoping not to be outsprinted at the death.

Bedford had his Lasse Viren, Elvan has Tirunesh Dibaba.

Dibaba beat her in the 2007 World 10,000 m final in Osaka, taking four seconds out of her in the last lap. Coming into the Olympic final an even stronger Dibaba was waiting, along with an array of track stars.

What followed was one of the bravest 10,000 m races ever.

They set off at a cracking pace and, despite the heat and humidity, six kilometres was reached in 18:12 with each kilometre run faster than 3:04. Six athletes were left in contention.

Elvan had to do something to break Dibaba, but off a pace that was already faster than the Olympic Record, what?

The answer was to run the seventh kilometre in an energy-sapping 2:57, the eighth and the ninth in a staggering 2:54 and 2:55. Every athlete in the group bar one (guess who) was blown away.

I swear I ran every step of those three kilometres; felt the burning in the lungs, the lactic in the legs; the sweat pouring down her face to form dark stains on her vest. I was entranced as she desperately tried to break the one last woman who could deprive her of gold.

Unbelievably, she then ran the last kilometre in 2:50. Dibaba somehow held it together and again went past her on the final lap to clock a simply impossible 2:46. The gap was less than two seconds.

Both women broke 30 minutes, more than 20 seconds faster than the Olympic Record.

Elvan couldn’t even find a Turkish flag to parade on her lap of honour. Turkey’s first silver on the track. They had that little faith.

Your votes, please, for Elvan Abeylegesse.

It's about the personality - Allout

Some will say Chris Hoy and others will back Lewis Hamilton but neither of them really do it for me. Of course Hoy’s performances were amazing and to win three medals, particularly in the convincing manner he did, is almost beyond description. However, great though Hoy’s performances were, we need to bear in mind he was helped by the strongest team in track cycling with the most generous national funding programme, the best system and the leading equipment.

Hamilton, likewise was helped by the strong McLaren-Mercedes team and (let’s not forget) was two bends and a large chunk of good fortune away from topping Rob Smyth’s next edition of his great sporting losers blog.

No, the man I propose has had little help from a generous government programme or techies whose specifications can give him an extra split-second. The man I propose has been on a personal voyage in recent years from surly loser to gracious winner, making the tough decisions and sacrifices on his own.

The bald facts show that this summer Andy Murray reached a Wimbledon quarter final (then his career Grand Slam best); won two Masters series in a row (Tim Henman, by contrast, won one in his entire career); reached a US Open final; and is now the number 4 in the world. He beat the three best players in the world at various points and is now generally regarded as one of the very best all-round players. When was the last time a British tennis player entered a major tournament not played on grass as one of the favourites? These facts are only half the story though: Murray’s has gone from a point where his volcanic temper was a massive problem to where he can channel it positively. Even more that this – he has done this in his own way, making difficult decisions and maturing himself, rather than having a team of advisers appointed by others making the tough calls.

There are those that will say that the award is for the top sports personality and argue that Murray’s lack of natural charm precludes him. The 22 year old is hardly like to be offered his own prime time TV show but this is just one aspect of personality. Another is character and the will and desire to do things your own way, making the necessary sacrifices to improve. Murray showed plenty of personality when he left his native Dunblane for Barcelona at the tender age of fifteen; Murray showed plenty of personality when he ditched the coach appointed by the LTA and put his own advisors, led by a little known mediocre former player Miles Maclagan, in charge; and Murray showed plenty of personality when he outplayed Nadal (who had been invincible all summer) on the big stage in Flushing Meadows.

Murray has, in short, shown the character, will and temperament necessary to be an absolutely top sportsman. It is that personality we should be celebrating, and not the ability to fire off witty one-liners!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

SPOTY - Mac Millings

You can keep your Bolts and your Phelpseses. There’s only one true candidate for Overseas Sports Personality of the Year, and his name is Sir Allen Stanford. That might not seem a likely suggestion, or even a sensible one, but consider this: why wouldn’t you select this brash Texan billionaire with few real connections to UK and little discernible sporting talent as the latest OSPOTY? The answer may surprise you.

The pros and cons are many. I will deal with them in order of no order whatsoever.

He hasn’t just brought Twenty20 cricket to the Caribbean. His stated aim - to rebuild the sport’s infrastructure in the region – is surely to be commended. For the good of the game and its continued diversity, to allow Caribbean cricket to founder is unthinkable. Conversely, what has Giles Clarke brought to the English game other than the Stanford Twenty20 for 20?

Some say he’s not really “Sir” Allen Stanford at all, and they’re quite right. His real name is Sirallen Stanford, and he is a pioneer in the field of ridiculous composite names, inspiring the likes of 4Real, D’Brickashaw and theguardian.

Then there’s “breaking America” – an idea that seems ridiculous to some. It shouldn’t. Of course cricket will never come close to threatening the major US sports, but that there are a large number of healthy minor sports in a country of over 300 million is no surprise. And with the populations of Americans of , for example, Caribbean and South Asian (particularly Indian) descent large and growing, and the possibilities of niche marketing in the age of the internet and cable/satellite/digital TV, why might cricket not be run as a small, but profitable, business, just as other minor US sports – both professional and amateur - are, in what we might call the Sports Economics version of The Long Tail (stop giggling at the back)?

We might even get a US team out of it one day – someone for England to beat, at least for a while. And who cares if their side wouldn’t showcase the best sportsmen that America has to offer? After all, English cricket lost the man his coach called “the greatest schoolboy cricketer he’d ever known” to football.

Kick-starting the renaissance of West Indian cricket isn’t Stanford’s only gift to the global game - he has also revealed to future opponents England’s fatal flaw. To guarantee success, simply raise the prize money to uncountable levels (n.b. India and Australia – you chaps needn’t bother).

This man - with a moustache bested in modern times only by my Grandma’s – may not be an actual sportsman, but with assets of $2.2 billion, and pretty ladies bouncing on his knee, he certainly is a player, and my Overseas Sports Personality of the Year.

The Sports Personality of the Year - donwendyagain

So here we are once again, that time of year when thoughts are turned to those brave souls who strived to brighten our lives with their sporting endeavour throughout the year. The BBC's campaign to suck us in is well under way and gathering momentum but we all know it will be the same saccharine sweet mixture of middle of the road commentary and glossy vacuous excrement that they serve up year after year without fail. But there is another way.

Instead of voting for the Olympic heroes, who achieved much in the heat of battle but delivered so little in terms of personality, perhaps we should be looking for an entertainer as opposed to a winner. Someone who delivers where it matters most, someone with the ability to make us laugh, cry, despair and rejoice all at the same time. After all the award has form as many of the past recipients have taken the prize on the back of that strangely British phenomenon... successful failure.

So this year I would like to consider someone who has shown that they have what it takes to fail consistently and could quite rightly be considered as one of the greatest successful failures of our time yet has retained the ability to entertain us every step of the way. Step forward Joey Barton.

He is a man who has comes with a wonderful back catalogue of crimes and misdemeanours. He is a man who knows how to court controversy and he is a man who knows how to make friends. In short this is a man who knows how to keep himself in the public eye and his cheeky personality makes him one of those players that you just love to loathe.

He has recently been released back into the community in the care of that greatly respected man of the people Joe Kinnear who will no doubt take Joey under his wing, show him the error of his ways and teach him the value of respect. The fruits of the budding relationship between this real life Obi Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker have not been slow in coming.

Having personality is all well and good, I hear you cry, but what about his sporting ability? Well it is true that his time on the pitch has been limited by Her Majesty's Pleasure but it is equally true that when Joey takes the time to focus on his craft he is a pretty tasty player.

But as we all know it’s an award for personality and Joey Barton has more personality in his little toe than the entire Olympic squad has in their combined bodies. So when you are considering who to vote for this year take a moment to consider someone who has faced real troubles, someone who keeps his head held high and someone who is a proven fighter...I give you Joey Barton.

The Cult of Personality - ElSell

Yes kids the show of shows, the award that has driven many a young would be hoodie to strive to be the best of the best, if Oscar was into sports as a child and not comic books he would be The BBC Sports Personality Of The Year err trophy. I think it’s safe to assume that it is called the personality of the year award due to the BBC fearing that years would pass without anyone actually winning anything.

However they were wrong and indeed due to Britain’s great ability to usually win at least one event in a calendar year it is a personality award in name only, as year on year it is given to those who being single minded and determined as a competitor should be, tend to display all the personality of a damp squib.

A quick peruse through the previous winners begs the question:
Honestly how many of them would you like to go for a drink with?
Yes there is a recent winner you wouldn’t mind getting drunk but that’s between you and Jesus.

Unlike most years where the BBC has to big up a couple of failures to create interest, this year there is actually real competition for the award.

The List of possible winners breaks into three categories:

The Trust Fund Kidults:
The best at what they do and heavily funded to get them across the line.

Hoy: Good bloke; beat literally tens of people from around the world spending thousands to win 3 medals.

Hamilton: Visits Britain when he can; a true genius in his field, team spent millions to win a competion that really could only be won by 3 other drivers.

The Self Made:
Not exactly paupers but not externally funded to the same extent and in events that are more competitive.

Cavendish: He is no Sean Kelly but has achieved more this year in the big bad world of “proper” cycling than any other Britain ever.

Murray: One of the most successful years ever by a British tennis player. Didn’t win Wimbledon!

Calzaghe: Won it last year.

The Welfare State
Or the Swimmers as they prefer to be known, well one swimmer in particular is front of the queue.

Adlinton: Two gold’s, had done most of her training in a 25 metre pool, grants that are not much more than the dole and as for her personality, well she has spent a lot of time in the pool.

If I had my way and one was to take the title of the show on its merits the winner should be this lunatic or the somewhat saner Eleanor Simmonds.

Unfortunately seeing as the people who actually vote tend to be people who stand in front of the TV saluting this or people who watch this and think it is real.

The winner will be either the bloke on the indoor bike or the bloke in the car.

SPOTY Ryan Giggs – fourturntables

Ryan Joseph Giggs has had a great year. In the last 12 months he has won the Premier League for the tenth time, the European Cup for a second time and surpassed Bobby Charlton's appearance record for Manchester United.

That makes him the most successful player in the history of the English League and the longest-serving player at perhaps the greatest club side in the world – and if that's not enough reason to give him sports personality of the year, there's another reason. He should win it because he hasn't, and we're running out of time.

Michael Owen's won it, David Beckham's won it, Paul Gascoigne's won it. None have a record anything like as good as Giggs'.

The trouble with Giggs is people have forgotten about him. Not just what he was, but what he still offers. This year, while 'past his prime' Giggs scored the goal that secured his and Manchester United's tenth (yes, tenth) Premier League as well as the winning penalty in the Champions League final.

Last year Joe Calzaghe won after a fight that capped 10 year as a world champion. Giggs has been at Manchester United longer, he first played for United in 1991, when John Major was prime minister. For close to two decades one of the finest managers ever has not been able to replace Giggs. Despite the riches of god and a global scouting network.

He has risen to every challenge the best team of the age could throw at him. He has played and scored in every single Premier League season. Ever. And scored in the last 13 seasons in the Champions Leage. That's not getting by, that's excelling.

He now has more titles than all but three clubs in England, and United only had seven before he arrived. Then there are the four FA Cups, two League Cups, six Charity Shields, two European Cups, a Uefa Super Cup and an Intercontinental Cup. Giggs won his first title before the Premier League began. Now read that again so I don't have to repeat it.

But he won't win it, because we've become accustomed to his excellence. So take a moment with me. Forget the balding central midfielder and remember the man that was. Sharp emblazoned on his chest, hair flying and the rest of the game struggling to catch up.

Remember the winger who left a thousand defenders on their arses and a hundred goalkeepers grasping at air, and that goal – so instrumental in the treble. And that year David Gional won player of the year.

How good is he? It's not for me to say, but if you ever question whether he has a right to win the award – remember the words "it's a wonderful run from Giggs" and then try and claim there's someone more deserving than the most successful player in the history of our most popular sport who is running out of time to receive the recognition that is his right.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Our youth, not yours - Phil West

The old man said: “I know what it is to be young, but you don’t know what it is to be old.”

What I believe he actually meant was: “I know that Ronaldo was fantastic last season, but you never saw Cruyff, or Best, or Pele.”

Coıncidently, I said it recently to a group of my students. They looked at me blankly (so no change there from limits of functions) and then traipsed off home to their laptops and Youtube.

The next day saw us talking about that goal in the 1970 final. No, not Pele’s; Carlos Alberto’s thumping shot after the best build up in World Cup history. Some of them had viewed the Cruyff Turn, but struggled to come to terms with the idea that this was groundbreaking (“I can do that!” was said many times), and others asked me why poor old George had been unable to find the right treatment, what with all the money he must have had.

Not exactly what I had expected, but all undeniably true from their perspective.

So why do people my age go all misty-eyed at the mention of these names?

The word Nostalgia literally means "the pain a person feels wanting to return to his native home, fearing never to see it again".

Our native home. Our youth.

Some people feel nostalgia for 60’s fashion, or for Duran Duran, or for Mum’s stew on a cold January evening. A large number of us feel it for Sport; for Cruyff, Best and Pele.

We talked about them in our school playgrounds; we argued about them with our Dads (they had seen Stanley Mathews and Duncan Edwards, so thought we were quite mad); and we watched them on Black and White TV with those different coloured footballs and strange horns sounding from the terraces. I cut my knee whilst lost in Cruyff-daydream-land in my backyard and wondered whether a girl called Elaine would notice I existed if I could only once dribble around three defenders and lob the keeper. I never did, and she didn't.

As I approach 50, my youth is an Eden from which I have been cast out, but from where I still remember feelings of innocent sporting awe.

I do know what it is to be young. And yes, I fear never seeing it again.

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