Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Nice try Lao Che!

But I'm afraid I'm going to have to call time on this blog. It was a nice idea but I have too many projects and don't know enough about other stuff for me to offer anything new. Ah well. It's a shame too because I really like the title. May bring it back at some point.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

World Masters Snooker – The Barry Hearn Bounce

As I type, Ronnie O Sullivan and Mark Selby are locked in an intense battle for the World Masters Final is taking place in front of a packed house at Wembley Arena. This tournament is already being regarded as a turning point for a sport that has, for many years, rested on its laurels.

Back in the Seventies and Eighties, Snooker commanded audiences of tens of millions. Dennis Taylor’s famous black ball finish of the World Championship against Steve Davis in 1985 was the sports high point. Players like Davis and Taylor along with Stephen Hendry, Jimmy White, Alex Higgins, Ray Reardon and many many more were household names.

The noughties however, have left the balls badly spread and the green baize has lost its colour. Audiences have declined and while the BBC continues to give the sport plenty of coverage, it no longer enjoys that ubiquitous status it once had. The sport has expanded in the Far East and the Association of World Snooker and Billiards had been considering relocating the World Championships away from the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, the Tournament’s home since 1977. An idea that has terrified Snooker fans, including this one.

Enter Barry Hearn of Matchroom Sports. The boxing promoter and owner of Leyton Orient Football club used to be Steve Davis manager and cut his teeth as a sports promoter with Snooker. Hearn helped found the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) in the early 90’s and has overseen its rise to the multi million pound sport that it is today.

Hearn has just taken his seat as Chairman of World Snooker promising to expand the fan base and return the game to prominence. The Masters is the first tournament under his stewardship and he has already begun to ring the changes by introducing walk on music for the players. He gave a wild card to the popular veteran and local lad, Jimmy White in the hope of boosting ticket sales. And as relatively cosmetic as they are, the changes may have succeeded in putting a few extra bums on seats. Crowd attendances have been dismal in recent years with even some finals not selling out. This week, however, Wembley is a busy place. Bustling and chirping with raucous young voices. The kind of people Hearn is trying to attract to the game.

Central to all this is O’Sullivan. The uber-gifted cue-master has made the final and his presence invariably draws a large crowd. The Londoner is well known for his flightiness that can lead to maddening inconsistency on the baize which has denied him a number of titles in the past. Hearn will have to do all he can to keep the Rocket motivated and playing well in the hope that he has the same effect on Snooker as Phil Taylor had on the popularity of Darts.

Other plans afoot are to change the feel and format of the ranking tournaments plus expanding into eastern and middle Europe where there is an increasing appetite for the game. In an interview with BBC Five Live, Hearn suggested that he may seek other media partners. He has an excellent relationship with Sky and ITV. Perhaps we’ll see the one or more of the major televised tournaments leave the BBC (although it would be unwise to move too many to non terrestrial TV in my opinion). Who knows, perhaps we’ll see the Crucible festooned with spotlights, DJ’s playing banging choons between frames and football chants from the spectators, just like PDC Darts... yes well.

Final Score: Mark Selby fought back from 9-6 down and took the final to a last frame decider. The Jester from Lecester took frame and match with a magnificent clearance. The only time Selby ever led the match was in the final frame.

Still looking

With the exception of a little vignette, you'll note that things have been a little quiet on this Blog. But that's OK since there are only two or three of you who can claim to be remotely regular readers and my comments section is hardly awash with impassioned pleas to be back with more barely insightful sports nonsense.

Nevertheless, even in the face of pubic indifference and with my personal arrangements now more orderly I have resolved to return to non football related sports blogging. I also intend to take a leaf out of Richard of A More Splendid Life and use this blog for a bit more of a personal slant on the world of sport.

Shortly, I'll be publishing a piece on Barry Hearn's attempt to revive snooker. Then I plan to cast a wee eye on the Tour Down Under and have a look at the prospect for cycling in the UK now that Team Sky is up and running.

Until then then.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Hop! A Sunday evening of sport on the telly



Hop!


Angola v Mali - Opening match of the Africa Cup Of Nations
Two goals by Flavio in the first half sends the home fans into rapture. The Africa Cup of Nations is underway and we can start talking about matters on the pitch.

Hop!

Dave Chisnall v Martin Adams - 2010 BDO World Darts Championship Final
Adams nervously takes out a double six to go 6-4 up in sets against the outsider Chisnall. He only needs one more set to claim his second ever World title.

Hop!

Jimmy White v Mark King - Snooker World Masters
Jimmy White makes a welcome return to Wembley Arena. "The Whirlwind" recently commanded audiences of millions as a contestant in ITV's reality fest I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here. While his star has waned considerably as a snooker player, newly installed World Snooker Chairman Barry Hearn chose to give the local boy a wild card entry into the tournament in the hope that he'll boost ticket sales and audience figure in the opening weekend of Snooker's second most prestigious competition.

Hop!

Chisnall v Adams
Chisnall pulls it back to 6-5. With the penultimate set at 2 legs a piece Adams throws for the title. He has three darts at tops to win but misses. Chisnall must check out 126 to have any hope of saving the match. He can't finish. Adams doesn't turn down the opportunity twice and nails the Double Top to take the championship.

Hop!

Angola v Mali
Gilberto is brought down in the box and wins a penalty. However, he is forced to take the spot kick twice after encroachment by one of his team mates. No worries though, he scores both penalties and Angola go 3-0 up. Moments later Manucho converts a yet another penalty to compound Mali's misery. 4-0 and game over. Or so we think.

Seydou Keita snatches an consolation for Mali following less than dominant box work by Angola's comedy keeper Carlos Fernandes. But they're not finished. On 88 minutes Sevilla striker Freddie Kanoute halves the deficit with a meatball header. Respectability at least for the visitors but the party continues at the November 11th Stadium.

Just after the injury time board goes up Keita steps up again for his second gaols and Mali's third. Suddenly, Angola look terrified and for good reason. They've become the football equivalent of Timo Glock in the wet on slick tyres. Mali are an 11 headed Lewis Hamilton hell bent on stealing Phillipe Massa's Champers. Sure enough, Mustapha Yatabare overtakes on the last corner and completes an incredible comeback. The Africa Cup Of Nations is underway in truly bonkers fashion.

Hop!

Juventus v Milan - Serie A
In Turin the sun almost sets on Ciro Ferrara's Managerial career at Juventus as the Old Lady goes down 3-0 to Milan. Becks is the first to celebrate.

Hop!

Jimmy White v Mark King
King beats White pretty easily in the end to crush the hopes of his fans (and Barry Hearn) of a fairytale run. Jimmy looks truly crestfallen as he packs up his gear. We may never see him on the telly again. Unless it's for an I'm A Celeb reunion show.

Meanwhile the Togolese national squad return home to grieve and ponder their own mortality. They may be back though.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

An NHL Preview... of sorts

So ice hockey then... hockey on ice. Like Holiday On Ice only its not a holiday. Come to that Holiday On Ice is not like a holiday either. It's a cavalcade of nauseating street theatre by failed ice dancers. So in fact, hockey on ice (or ice hockey if you will) is nothing like watching a bunch of washed up skaters indulging third rate performance art. At least I'd never tell that to an ice hockey player to his face.

Anyhoo, the NHL season starts on Thursday and thanks to the joys of an ESPN America subscription I have access to no less the 1467 regular season games. So I thought I'd take a look at a sport I know next to nothing about. Richard Whittall of A More Splendid Life told me once that hockey (in Canada they drop the ice) isn't worth watching until the play offs which is next year some time. Well that's no good to me I want to watch it now. Besides, it might take me a few months to understand what the hell is going on.

The last time I looked at any Ice Hockey was about five minutes of a play off game between the Otisburg Quacks and the Luthorville Super Villains (I think that's what they were called) last season. While I only had a fleeting understanding of what was transpiring and had severe difficulty following the puck, I could see that this was a game played with great speed and intensity. The only other experience I have is with an NHL game I had on the Super Nintendo back in the early 90's. To be frank I don't recall knowing what I was doing back then, except the fighting, I remember that.

So while I can't promise to give the upcoming NHL season my full attention, I am resolved to give it a crack. I've downloaded the latest Puck Podcast and learned all about Wayne Gretsky who is no longer the coach of the Gotham City Coyotes. Hopefully, I'll be able to sit through an entire match and even remember the team names. Perhaps one day I'll even figure out what x and y means before the teams on the league tables.

Wish me luck and if you have any advice, please leave a comment.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Vinokourov's Vuelta return and how Cycling deals with its drug problem

I frequently find myself defending cycling to people I know who don't follow the sport. Common gripes are "it's too long", "it's confusing" and "I hate men in Lycra". To be honest, as a relatively new cycling fan, I don't always have that much of an argument to make against this sort of criticism aside from simply shrugging my shoulders and saying "It works for me."

However, on the issue of drugs and doping in cycling, I'm on safer ground. For as much as people laugh at cycling for it's drug cheats, I laugh back. Because despite all the seemingly endless controversy surrounding the doping in the sport, I know that Cycling have a much better handle on the drug issue than say Soccer or Baseball for example.

When I look at elite professional soccer players running at full speed, jinking, shooting, scoring, ducking and yes diving consistently for 90 minutes I get suspicious. Fair enough, these guys are full time athletes and should be able to play with the same level of intensity over 90 minutes but some off them don't seem to show any signs of fading as the match goes on. That is until you see a close up of their pale, drawn faces, eyes clouded with exhaustion and wonder if there is something inside them pushing them on, something not naturally occurring in the body that is.

Soccer is almost blind to doping in my opinion. Occasionally, a player will be banned for substance abuse but that does not even scratch the surface in my view. At least with cycling, the sport is facing up to its problem and while drug stories may bring shame to the sport in the eyes of some. For me, again I stress as a relative newcomer, it demonstrates willingness and a sense of obligation to confront the problem. It also shows that the anti-doping policies are working. I'm not naive enough to believe that everyone gets caught (of they did it would stop surely) but I am naive enough to believe cycling should take some credit that it is willing to face up to some of its problems.

Drugs in sport are like drugs in the world at large. The subject is controversial, morally ambiguous, painful, embarrassing and capable of ruining peoples lives. Discussion and analysis is inconsistent. In the world of sport where fierce loyalties are assigned to various teams or athletes, there are accusations bias, favoritism and hypocrisy. Take the return of Alexander Vinokourov to the 2009 Vuelta. A recent Eurosport opinion piece on the website condemned Astana for hiring him. The reaction in the comments section was pretty heated. The author was accused of having something against Vinokhorov and showing double standards when other riders have returned from doping bans to rider again (David Millar being one name mentioned).

Vinokourov's mountain victory at Loudenvielle in 2007 was one of the biggest reasons as to why I got hooked on cycling. His remarkable comeback into contention for the Tour de France GC after being cut to ribbons earlier in the race struck a chord with my own conception of valour and sporting elan. It gave me a deeper appreciation of the sport. His subsequent drug test failure the following days also taught me a lesson about cycling: As the advert says "Impossible is nothing", especially if you're blood doping.

I firmly believe that once an individual has been punished they should allowed to go back to work unless there is sufficient cause to believe that by doing so they will repeat their original offence. On the other hand, Vino only served a one year ban when the usual amount is two years. At the risk of upsetting his supporters, shouldn't there at least be a consistency of punishment? Why should he get off lightly?

But this brings me back to my point. These issues and arguments come up because cycling is prepare to address them rather than put their hands in the sand like other sports. The Vino controversy is part of a long evolutionary process which will ultimately see the sport much much cleaner in the long run. It is not easy and at times seems unfair. Nevertheless, the sight of a million spectators on Mont Ventoux proves that these issues are worth working out to a conclusion. No matter how unpleasant the journey.

For more on the 2009 Vuelta visit Vuelta a Espana ¦ A Novice View.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Bolt and Bummer


My apologies for not updating this blog recently. I've been understandably caught up with the start of the football season.

Briefly however, let us pause to acknowledge the extraordinary achievement of Usain Bolt this evening at the World Athletics Championships in Berlin.

Rarely has an athlete forced that World to look on in astonishment as Bolt has this night. His 100 metre dash smashed the World ecord by eleven hundredths of a second. According to Infostrada Sports, this is the biggest improvement since 1921.

My, that boy is fast.

Also, You may have read my favourable review of BAMMA: The Fighting Premiership. Well it seems that BAMMA have gone bust and subsequent events cancelled. Oh well. Back to the drawing board for British MMA.

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