Archive for the ‘ Sport ’ Category

Who said what? Round One: Sir Alex Ferguson vs Comrade Nikita Khrushchev

“Dissent is for losers”, apparently: an outlook that Sir Alex Ferguson happens to share with Nikita Khrushchev, former First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party.  And it’s not the only one. Couple that with their beautiful mugs, and it can be hard to tell them apart. So, who said it, Fergie or Nikita?

1) “We have to swallow this bitter pill… The weak complain against the strong; the strong pay no attention and continue their insolent action” – Fergie, upset at Thierry Henry’s 90th minute winner in a 2007 league game OR Nikita, after the Soviets failed to shoot down a US spy plane?

2) “He could start a row in an empty house.” – Nikita on Lyndon Johnson, OR Fergie, on Dennis Wise?

3) “He was certainly full of it, calling me “Boss” and “Big Man” when we had [a] drink… But it would help if his greetings were accompanied by a decent glass of wine. What he gave me was paint-stripper.” – Fergie on José Mourinho after a Champions League game, OR Nikita, after a landmark meeting with Dwight Eisenhower at Camp David?

4) “We will bury you” – Nikita, referring to agents of international imperialism, OR Fergie, referring to Roberto Mancini’s Man City?

5) “If you start throwing hedgehogs under me, I shall throw a couple of porcupines under you” – Fergie, speaking to the media, OR Nikita, speaking to the media?

6) “Sometimes you look in a field and you see a cow and you think it’s a better cow than the one you’ve got in your own field. It’s a fact. Right? And it never really works out that way.” – Nikita, in reference to why East Germany would regret reunification with its seemingly more prosperous neighbours, OR Fergie, in reference to Wayne Rooney?

7) “[This] question has stuck like a dead rat in the throat of some people – they are disgusted with it and yet they can’t spit it out” – Fergie, when asked about the BBC’s allegations about his son Jason, OR Nikita, when asked about Soviet intervention in Hungary?

8) “Though you are a fiery young man and I am no longer young, I can still compete with you” – Nikita to an American talk show host OR Fergie in a touch-line encounter with Andre Villas-Boas?

9) “[so] I decided to add a little more heat. I took off my shoe and pounded it…” – Fergie, in reference to David Beckham’s forehead, or Nikita, as he made a point about General Franco?

10) “They are the inventors of the smokescreen.” – Nikita, in reference to Americans, OR Fergie, in reference to Italians?

11) “He’s not [x], he’s a piece of shit” – Fergie, (missing words “the Great One,”) in reference to Jose Mourinho, OR Nikita (missing words “the foreign minister”) referring to the Soviet foreign minister?

12) “He’s a bully, a fucking big-time Charlie”. Nikita, referring to John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, or Fergie, referring to Paul Ince?

13) “Could that come under the description ‘desperation?’ I’ve got plenty of ammunition, don’t worry. They can try.” Fergie, speaking figuratively in reference to Carlos Tevez playing again for Man City, or Nikita, speaking literally about a possible NATO-led military solution to the Berlin question?

14) “What am I going to do without work? How am I going to live?” Nikita after his very real, enforced retirement OR Fergie musing on his potential, always-imminent but never arriving theoretical retirement?

15) ‘It’s getting tickly now – squeaky-bum time, I call it.’ Fergie, in reference to the tension of the end of the season, or Nikita, in reference to the tension of the potentially world-ending Cuban Missile Crisis?

Answers in the comment below…


In good Kompany

Sorry, sorry, couldn’t resist. I’m only in journalism for the puns, dontcha know?

Anyway anyone who’s read Vincent Kompany’s views on his tackle and the debate over video technology may think we differ entirely on the matter (or may wonder what the hell my views are; see here). I am hugely respectful of his views and he put them across very coherently. The basic gist seems to be that the opportunity for redress by video means that every tackle with intent would be punished retrospectively, and that there would be ridiculous numbers of suspensions. Just to assuage your worries though (and I’m sure they’re harboured by hundreds); Kompany and I in fact have entirely  consistent views. Taking an NHL style approach to discipline doesn’t mean you can’t still beat each other up, or take them out completely. We just need to agree on what the rules are. Half of Kompany’s frustration is that there is this inconsistency, with a tendency to move towards a status quo which penalises  aggressive tackles. That doesn’t need to happen for us to use video technology. The debate about what is allowed and what isn’t is separate to how we decide if someone has done something wrong. So we could decide that in all cases we should allow two-footed tackles, but still use video evidence to determine if someone has headbutted someone in an off the ball incident. The two issues shouldn’t be conflated. Good? Good. Hope that’s set your mind at ease.

Accountability and Technology in Football: Lessons from the NHL

If you saw the Kompany tackle on Nani last Sunday, or, for that matter, the Joey Barton “headbutt”, or, for that matter, choose to care even an iota about football on any given weekend, you’ll know that the current method and standards of refereeing are, shall we say, controversial.

Let’s not beat about the bush; I think the argument for use of replays is fairly uncontestable, and the two main arguments against it – that it would take too much time and would not be applicable throughout the footballing world – don’t really bear close examination. What, so the amount of time wasted haranguing and surrounding referees to put across your point of view forcefully (despite the fact your valiant plaint isn’t going to take back that red card) and the subsequent harassment of refs by fans when some European referee is adjudged to have dumped England out a given international competition isn’t worth the 5 seconds that it takes to consult a video replay? Not only is it time saving but it is culture changing; why swear and curse the official who is going by empirics-supported video review? It doesn’t undermine officials, it helps them. As for the inability to implement video review at all levels, that is simply a nonsense. Okay, so not every game would have video review, but then not every game has as much monetary value attached to it as a Champions League or international fixture. Pragmatically alone it seems to be easily justified. But on a purely theoretical basis the reasoning doesn’t hold up either. So changes need to be cost effectively implemented at all levels? Can the behind-the-goal-line-official, of Europa League trial fame, truly be said to fit this criteria? Playing at a low-level, I know how hard it is to get linesmen for football games, let alone fourth officials, let alone fifth or sixth ones. And notwithstanding the fact that these officials spend the whole game doing very little and then seem to make non-decisions when you may think they could helpfully have helped their colleagues out, is it really likely that every Blue Square Premier-style division would find it cost-effective to use them? Well, at least theoretically they could. But I don’t see how an investment to supply such officials and an investment in video technology differ, especially given the broadcasting on television of ever more lowly leagues thanks to Premier Sports and the like.

But, despite the lengthy drawn-out diatribe to start this post, its purpose is not to go over well-rehearsed  and oft-repeated points on the matter of the use of technology. Indeed, it is worth noting that even on watching replays, neither the Kompany nor Barton decisions lend themselves to indubitable decisions one way or another (to Mr Platini’s delight I’m sure…) Rather, the point of this post is to highlight how football could improve its accountability, without exposing individual referees to unwanted attention for their decisions.

The NHL has taken a new approach to disciplinary procedures in ice hockey this year. Whenever a player is thrown out of a game, each decision is reviewed and a suspension is given (or the decision reversed) on the basis of that review. When this decision has been made, the NHL releases a snazzily edited video with former-Red Wing Brendan Shanahan explaining the panel’s decision (of which he is a lead member).

Football could take a number of things from this. Imagine a world where rather than moaning about it on the MOTD sofas, Messers Hansen, Shearer or Lawrenson could be given input into disciplinary matters? This may be a scary world. But in Shanahan the NHL have found an ex-player with unquestioned credibility whose career is distinguished and suitably violent to immediately subdue those who think that the NHL is softening up. The “30 years ago that would get you a contract extension” argument doesn’t wash with him; he knows the difference between what’s hockey and what’s dangerous. Thirty years ago that hit to the head would get your opponent a concussion, just like it does today, so you better sit out a few games. Or you’ll have to argue it with Shanahan himself. (If only…)

But the most refreshing thing about the NHL’s new approach is how wonderfully open it is. This player broke rules here, here and here. It wasn’t and accident, look here and here. He’s done this before. The victim was injured on the play. Put it all together and whaddya have? An 8 game suspension! It’s precise, transparent and explanatory. Everything that football lacks.

Sometimes technology won’t be enough to solve football’s problems, and even with hindsight decisions will come down to different interpretations of individuals. But with reasoning and explanation, ice hockey has shown how interpretations can be justified without exposing on-ice officials. So Kompany’s challenge can be shown to be dangerous by examining how he left the ground at this point, his intent was there, how Nani took action to avoid him, necessary to avoid a broken leg. Or the decision can be reversed. But any justification would ultimately need to make use of the copious video evidence we have at our disposal. Ice hockey does it, so does rugby, tennis, cricket… and it’s a minimum step before the structural standard of football officiating rises anything above a farce.

Beaten by the better team, but graceless in defeat

16th June 2011

The Canucks found it in themselves to show Boston some respect. It’s a shame that the people of Vancouver couldn’t do the same for their own city.

There’s an old North American joke: last night I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out. This morning the city of Vancouver is reeling from the hockey game where a fight broke out. Although ice hockey is known for its bench-clearing brawls, this time the fight was on the streets, and not the ice.

During the first period of Hockey Night in Canada’s coverage, there was a shot of the 100,000 strong crowd in CBC plaza. “You usually only see crowds of this size in European protests in which they’re trying to get the government to resign,” mused the commentator, with an air of self-righteousness, “Fortunately,  things have gone as they did during the Olympics 16 months ago – smoothly.” Seven seconds later, Patrice Bergeron jammed a shot off Roberto Luongo’s right post, and the Boston Bruins had scored the first goal. You see, the difference during the Olympics was that Canada won.

A better analogy for what eventually transpired last night in Vancouver is the last time the Canucks lost a Game 7 Stanley Cup final, in 1994 against the New York Rangers, which was also followed by rioting in downtown Vancouver. Back then, the Canucks were the complete underdogs, starring Russian phenom Pavel Bure but seeded 7th in the Western Conference, compared to the New York Rangers, who, led by the legendary Mark Messier, clinched the top seed in the East, and were heavy favourites.

Compare to this season, where Vancouver had been the presumed Stanley Cup Champions since last September. They won the President’s trophy for the best team in the whole NHL, as they garnered an enormous 117 points, scored the most goals and conceded the fewest goals of any hockey franchise. Daniel Sedin won the Art Ross trophy for the most individual points (goals and assists combined) with 104, following in the footsteps of his teammate and brother Henrik, who won it last year. Led by the Sedin twins at the front, Olympic champion Luongo in goal and the deepest defensive corps in the NHL, they were the frontrunners throughout the playoffs, and when they beat defending champions and recent playoff rivals Chicago in seven games in the first round, it was assumed that they had laid their demons to rest, and were set to challenge for their first ever Stanley Cup, to go along with their historic season.

So given that riots happened in 1994, in hugely different circumstances, you may have expected the Vancouver fans to have been displeased by the events of last night. The series was tied at three games apiece, with each game going the way of the home team. The Canucks had been poor in Boston, but with the decider back in Vancouver (thanks to that stellar regular season), and the Rogers Arena hosting it’s 363rd sellout (a streak going back to 2002), expectations were through the roof. Instead, the fans saw a largely tepid display from their star-studded team, a perfect road performance from Boston, and another game where luck was not on Vancouver’s side.

Despite this, fans inside the arena were surprisingly graceful in defeat. With 30 seconds to go and their team 4-0, they stood up and rapturously applauded, perhaps in acknowledgement to a better Boston side, or perhaps in tribute to the run that Vancouver had been on. It is NHL tradition for every member of the winning team to have their skate around with the Cup, and while the boo-birds came out for certain Boston super-pests and the NHL commissioner (and all-around baddie) Gary Bettman, they were generous in their support for many of Boston’s stars, including Mark Recchi, whose incredible career ended last night with the 43 year old winning his third Stanley Cup ring (20 years after his first), Milan Lucic, a Vancouver native, and Tim Thomas. The story of Tim Thomas is truly remarkable. He didn’t make the NHL until his thirties, and has now won a Stanley Cup having set a new record for save percentage during the regular season, set records for saves in a Stanley Cup final and playoff run, and won the Conn Smythe trophy as the MVP of the playoffs. It is impossible to begrudge him any of this success, and the fans inside the Rogers arena seemingly appreciated the magnitude of what he, and his team, had achieved.

Having said this, this was a series played with plenty of bad blood. Game 3 saw the most penalty minutes in a Stanley Cup final since 1990, and the whole series was characterised by unsavoury moments, be it Alex Burrows alleged “biting” an opponent, serious injuries suffered by Bruins forward Nathan Horton and Canuck winger Mason Raymond, or Luongo provocatively claiming that the goal Thomas conceded in Game 5 (which was the only goal and won the game for Vancouver) was one that he would have stopped.

However, (partly due to some lenient refereeing), Game 7 saw only 3 penalties, and the traditional handshake line saw some meaningful exchanges between opposing players – and not of fists. Even Thomas and Luongo made their peace – although as Thomas pointed out after the game, “I respect the players from the Vancouver Canucks and I respect Roberto Luongo… I had nothing to do with… anything.” This prompted a strange exchange with broadcaster Ron McLean where the latter tried to apologise on behalf of the entirety of North American sports media for making a story out of the dispute, while the former entrenched his reputation as the most gracious and most deserving winner in hockey.

Such talk of grace, and lack thereof, brings us on to the riots, and accentuates the ridiculousness of what transpired. The fans inside the stadium could respect the Bruins. The players could respect each other. Thomas could respect Luongo, and vice versa. Yet the fans in downtown Vancouver couldn’t even respect their own city. Of course, as with any riot, the old arguments have come out – it’s a “minority”, they use it as an “excuse” for violence – but what was the excuse? The parallels with the protests in Europe, and indeed in Britain with the rise in tuition fees, are interesting. If you believe that over any political issue, peaceful protest is the only legitimate form of protest in democracies, then violence can never be justified. However, saying that the opportunity for protest was used as an “excuse” for violence makes sense. If there is an issue, of government cuts or tuition fee rises, which is worthy of protest, this can be exploited and taken too far. Yet the Canucks’ fans had no moral cause, and no issue to exploit.

And if you want to argue that violence against property can be justified, it can only be justified when there is an appropriate political issue to get steamed up about. At the TUC protest in March, HSBC was targeted by “anarchists” because of their record on tax avoidance. Last night, banks were trashed for simply being there. During the student protests we saw police vans being attacked. Last night, cars were overturned and set on fire… again, just for being there. When things in downtown Vancouver were going “smoothly”, it was easy to be snide about European idealism and revolutionary impulses. But when you lack such impulses and just trash your city for kicks, idiocy and alcohol, it’s simply embarrassing. As a user named “Steve” commented on the Globe and Mail, “I wish the TV would stop calling them protesters. It is giving protesters a bad name.”

The rioters last night had no excuse. There was no unjust refereeing, there was no sense in which Vancouver deserved to win on the night, and no way that the expectation of success should lead to such an inordinate sense of entitlement. Moreover, the triumphalist photos of fans cheering in front of burning cars suggest that it wasn’t sadness or even anger which prompted these riots, and perhaps, the emotional high of a victory would’ve resulted in a similar result. We’ll never know. But when the extent of your violent behaviour is unacceptable even to the ice hockey world, you know you’ve overstepped the mark.

What the Mike Richards and Jeff Carter Trades Mean for the Philadelphia Flyers

Published on, 23rd June 2011

Wow, I’m speechless.

If you didn’t believe the Flyers could let go of their top goal-scorer in an attempt to burn salary, how about their captain too?

Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, who signed contract extensions amounting to a combined 26 years with the Flyers just three years ago, have both left the organization in the same afternoon.

Carter went first, for winger Jakub Voracek, a first-round (eighth overall) and a third-round 2011 draft pick from Columbus. Richards followed him out, for RW Wayne Simmonds, center Brayden Schenn and a second-round 2012 pick.

Clearly these are massive trades, and not ones that will necessarily be popular with all the fans on Broad Street. I’m not here to trash or praise Paul Holmgren. History (by way of a Stanley Cup) will be the judge on whether this move is genius or insanity. But it has clear implications for next year’s roster which may be more tangible.

So if you want to know what this means for how the Flyers lineup at the beginning of the season, read on…

Read the rest of the article (and earlier articles about the NHL) on