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World Cup 2014: Land of Hope and Dreams

Fifa World Cup posters 1930 - 2014

That was the week that was, the best first week of a World Cup certainly since Espana ’82 when the entrants were increased to 24 and the competition grew to another level. It’s already, as some of us predicted, an open tournament, with no clear favourites. Before it began Paul Wilson wisely noted most teams, including England, had a chance and flair and progressive football may yet be rewarded. There have been high-quality clashes, games with end-to-end action, plenty of goals including a couple of world class ones, a degree of unpredictability, new rules that have benefited the games, and even, largely, good officiating, with the referee decision to let play go on in dying minutes of stoppage time in the Switzerland game as good as a decision as the soft penalty the hosts were awarded on the opening night was disappointing.

There are two certainties during any football World Cup: (1) People around the world will be united with a passion and interest in the global game. This is exemplified in bars in cities the world over every four years. Just as telling, in an hour plus bus ride through ethnically diverse and far from affluent towns in west London this morning, England flags were a constant with people wearing their colours for the nation where they live and work. Meanwhile, there is another category of people that always seem to pop-up while millions immerse their soul in a love of the game: (2) the passive-aggressive sneering cynics who look to discredit football at every given opportunity. What a blow for that second group this last week has been.

We can smell these naysayers from afar, as annoying and distinct as exhaled smoke. There are the landlords in pubs who originally don’t plan to show football but seeing their takings fall they begrudgingly turn their TV set on, presumably previously there as a fake decoration like a library book in an O’Neill’s pub or in case war breaks out and there is an address to the nation; having turned the telly, like a modern-day Basil Fawlty, they then insist on turning the volume down to zero, as football is beneath them. These are the type of people who have sneered at working-class kids like Beckham and Rooney earning money they can only dream of, but never mention golfers, motor racing drivers, or bankers or barristers or any other profession where having a more advantageous start in life may have played a part. Continue reading…

England Cricket – A Tale of Two Ashes 2013/14

Jimmy Anderson by Lilly Allen for The Substantive

A successful England test team was taken apart in Australia, leading to wholesale changes and three new call-ups for the first test of the summer against Sri Lanka this week. A look back at some of the key moments for the England team of the back-to-back tests against Australia that went from triumph to disaster.

Australia v England, The Gabba, Novemeber 2013First Day at The Gabba © Mel Gomes

It is hard to think of any England cricket tour that has produced so much carnage.

First Jonathan Trott, who looked like his was found out in the English summer yet still taken on tour, looked all at sea in the heat of battle at the Gabba and flew home the day after the first test. Another staple of the successful side, Greame Swann, whose intelligent, beguiling over against Ricky Ponting against Edgbaston in 2009 will long-live in the memory, found it hard to get any bounce or spin; he boxed up all his records and a head full of ideas after the third test. Steven Finn, a genuine match-winner, wasn’t given a look in before he was sent home before the one-dayers began. Andy Flower, who had hinted the tour would be his swan song as coach, didn’t even get to make the choice himself before being given his marching orders upstairs. Further changes followed, including the end for Mustaq Ahmed and a still despondent Graham Gooch; Ashley Giles hides his humble hopes now and Geoff Miller is no longer chief selector. And of course the most talented and successful England player of the generation since he practically clinched the 2005 Ashes on his own, Kevin Pieterson, was the convenient scapegoat. What dark arts he performed in the dressing room that meant the team couldn’t bat, bowl or field, we may only fully find out when the confidentiality clauses end. Continue reading…



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