Back in January I went up to Headingley to interview the Yorkshire all-rounder Adil Rashid. The interview started conventionally enough, but as time went on his unhappiness came out. Originally intended for a cricket magazine, the publication date was delayed for so long that in the end I placed it in The Cricket Paper and The Independent. It caused a certain furore, especially at the Yorkshire club, and as tends to happen, the messenger — me — copped the flak. Such is (a journalist’s) life. Anyway, since then he’s received much better treatment from Yorkshire and has responded by playing brilliantly.
Leg-spinner Adil Rashid: Yorkshire are ruining me
When the fast bowler Ajmal Shahzad left Yorkshire last May, there were many who thought the leg-spinning all-rounder Adil Rashid would follow him. The parallels were obvious. Close friends, both had enjoyed sufficient success to feature regularly for the England Lions and occasionally in full international squads, but their careers appeared to have stalled, and neither was happy with their treatment by their county.
The two are different characters however, and while the ebullient Shazhad went on loan to Lancashire before eventually signing a three year deal with Nottinghamshire, the more reserved Rashid stayed put, even after being dropped and publicly criticised by Yorkshire president Geoffrey Boycott. He was eventually recalled, but in the ten championship matches he played last season, Rashid scored just 129 runs in eight innings at 16.12, and took 16 wickets at 41 apiece.
The 25-year-old believes he knows why and is determined it will not happen again.
“Now is the time to draw the line, and if it happens again I’ll say ‘OK, I’ll go out on loan somewhere else to play’. I hope it doesn’t come down to that. I’ve been playing here seven years and I want to stay. But I have a career and I can’t waste another year.
“At the moment I’m hopefully still there or thereabouts, but another year like 2012 and I won’t be, I’ll be dropping down, down, down and gone. If I don’t feel as though I’ve been treated well, I’ll go. I need to be playing first team cricket, and I know if I’m not playing for Yorkshire there are going to be teams out there willing to take me and play me.”
Boycott may have insisted Rashid had not been mismanaged by Yorkshire, but the player disagrees.
“It’s hard to come straight on and hit your length and line with every delivery if you’re hardly bowling and the coaches and people around you don’t give you the backing. Last year a lot of people were saying ‘There’s something not right here’. ”
“People would ask me, ‘You’re playing but you’re only bowling one over, you’re batting nine or ten, why are you being treated like this?’ Because obviously if that happens to any player, not just me, the confidence goes down, you start doubting yourself, you start thinking you have to do something different.
“Obviously there’s some blame on me, but also there’s some on the people around me, on the captain and the coaches, because you have to be treated fairly. If a player’s not performing, don’t just all of a sudden disrespect him, or think ‘Oh, he’s nothing now’ then as soon as he starts playing well, ‘OK, I’ll respect him again now’.
That he has drifted so far out of international consideration that he was not even selected for the Lions squad last winter was one of the reasons he chose not to earn money by playing abroad last winter.
“I have to believe I can get back into international contention, so I didn’t go to play in Australia or South Africa, I stayed and worked on my game so this season I’d be ready to get good performances under my belt. At the end of the season hopefully I’ll have some hundreds, some ‘five fors’, and I’ll be knocking on the door of the Lions squad or even the main squad. I’m still only 25.”
Given most spinners achieve their best results in the later stages of their careers, it is a reasonable point. Rashid was 18 when he took 6–67 against Warwickshire on his debut on a typically hard Scarborough wicket back in 2006.
The season after that debut he took 40 championship wickets and scored almost 800 runs: the season following, 62 wickets, a return which earned him a late call into England’s touring party to go to India. International one-day recognition followed, but just six wickets taken and 70 runs scored taken in five ODIs and five T20s for England left some questioning whether he possessed the quality to adapt Test cricket. His struggle at Yorkshire last season obviously hasn’t helped.
“I was frustrated when I was dropped because I didn’t think I’d done much wrong. I hadn’t had much chance, the weather was poor, I hadn’t bowled a lot of overs, and all of a sudden for me not to be playing for the first team, it was very frustrating and very upsetting mentally as well.
“I didn’t really get any answers as to why I wasn’t playing. It was: ‘You’re not playing today, we don’t feel you’re bowling well enough.’ But how can I not be bowling well enough when I’m hardly bowling at all? Or just in one or two over spells? As a leg-spinner, it’s tough to bowl one of two over spells, it takes three or four overs to get into your rhythm.
“Ask Shane Warne. Off-spinning is different, you can land it there easy, but if a leg-spinner is cold or whatever, you need a couple of overs and you need the captain to give you confidence and backing. If a batter goes after you, the captain needs to be saying ‘OK, let’s set a defensive field, keep bowling, I’m going to keep you on, doesn’t matter if you get smashed, you’re my match-winner and you’re going to get me wickets’.
“Sometimes I didn’t even get hit, I’d concede five or six runs, and it’s like ‘Take a break’, and bring the other spinner [off-spinner Azeem Rafiq] on. And he starts bowling long spells, and I haven’t bowled yet.
“The captain [Andrew Gale] knows what I can do because I’ve got 200 plus [296 actually] first class wickets. I must have been doing something right to get all those wickets. He should have known, ‘OK, he’s done this in the past, I need to back him.’ If I don’t get that from the captain, if it’s one or two overs and then that’s it, obviously my confidence is going to go down.
“Doubts start creeping in. I’m thinking ‘I’ve got to take a wicket in this over or I that’s it, I don’t bowl again’. No captain in the past did that to me. I had [Anthony] McGrath, I had Vaughany [Michael Vaughan], I had Craig White, I had Jacques Rudolph, they backed me.
“Vaughany used to set defensive fields and just bowl me. He never doubted me and it would just build my confidence, I’d get a wicket, get another, get four get five. That’s how it worked with Craig White, with ‘Mags’ [McGrath] too. With Galey it’s changed, it’s different. A couple of overs and that’s it, you’re not bowling again for a long time, and when you do come on to bowl again, it’s for an over. I don’t think it’s fair.
“He [Gale] doesn’t understand leg-spin bowling, you need a captain that understands leg-spin. When you have two spinners, it’s so much easier just to go to the guy who bowls off-spin because you know what you are going to get. He might bowl ten overs at less than three an over and pick up one wicket. Do you go with that, or with the leg-spinner who might have a good day or bad day, but if he has a good day might get you five wickets in those ten overs?
“If you have seamers who bowl line and length, and keep it tight naturally, and then you go for your off-spinner to keep it tight again, everything is one-dimensional.
“A wrist-spinner can be a risk-spinner, but as a captain, sometimes you have to take a risk. You have to think OK, he might get smashed sometimes, but he’s my wicket-taker, and I don’t care if he goes for six or seven an over, just try and do your thing, I’ll give you a seven over spell, I’ll give you a defensive field, I’ll set a few close catchers. That’s what I want and hopefully I will get during this year coming. I’ve spoken to the captain and hopefully it will come into play.”
Batting too. “Batting seven or eight, or lower, it’s pretty hard from there to get big scores. Sometimes you need quick runs to declare or whatever. If I was getting the opportunity at number six, I could start playing like a batter, play myself in. The coaches have said it could be my position, it’s there to be taken and we want you to be that person.
“And if I’m bowling spells, the confidence will come and it will all start to feel natural again.”
Originally posted in The Independent.
Sometimes the attitude of young athletes to the media is very hard to understand. I’ve been trying to arrange an interview with a 19-year-old female athlete, a relative unknown who is going to take part in the World Junior Cross-Country Championships. I ‘sold’ the putative interview to The Sunday Times, as the runner is promising and of course Paula Radcliffe won the same title some 19 years ago before going on to great things. Perhaps this kid will too. I was pleased — it would be great publicity for the unknown, her sponsors, and junior athletics in a quality broadsheet read by millions.
Unfortunately said athlete, after consulting her agent (and coach, he’s the same person apparently) decided she wasn’t prepared to make time either for a photograph or face to face interview. She’d do a phone interview, that was all. the sports editor of The Sunday Times decided, not surprisingly, if she wasn’t prepared to put herself out for half an hour, he would use the space for someone who was. And I couldn’t help but agree. Can’t imagine her sponsors would be pleased if they knew. When people complain about the lack of coverage of female/junior sport, however, it’s worth bearing in mind that sometimes they don’t help themselves.
It is not entirely unrelated to say how interesting it was to talk to the Egyptian footballer Ahmed Fathi, for The Independent. Here’s the piece. It’s another take on the old ‘getting sport into perspective’ argument. For Fathi, who saw people being killed on the football field, it’s even more important to keep playing than it was before.
Ahmed Fathi: Egyptian exile driven by Port Said tragedy
Ahmed Fathi watched fans die in the Port Said riot. So how does he feel sitting on the bench at Hull? He tells Richard Rae football matters more to him than ever
Just over a year ago, Ahmed Fathi stood on a football field in Port Said, Egypt, and saw supporters being attacked and killed in the stands. Under attack themselves, he and his team-mates ran for their lives to the dressing room and watched helplessly as the mortally injured were carried in to die on the benches above which they had hung their clothes.
The final death toll following the match between Fathi’s Al-Ahly, from Cairo, and local side Al-Masry was at least 74. Some maintain it to have been higher. When he has seen and heard things he will never, can never, forget, does making the starting line-up for a team to which he moved on loan in another country matter that much?
“Yes,” says Fathi, immediately. “It matters even more. I feel different to before [Port Said], yes, but when people die, you cannot stop. You must complete your life. For me that means I must play.”
The 28-year-old pauses, searching for words. “You must understand how important work is in Egypt. Always, but especially now. Football is my work. You must concentrate on your work and do it better. When you have good work, hard work, everything can be normal.”
For Fathi, who has won 91 caps and been an automatic selection for his country in midfield and defence since making his debut as a 17-year-old, normality is a place in the starting XI, for Al-Ahly and for Egypt. Hence his intense frustration at being used only off the bench since he and striker Mohamed Nagy – known by his nickname of Gedo – joined compatriot Ahmed Elmohamady on loan at Hull City in January.
At the time, the Egyptian domestic league was still suspended, as it had been since the riot, and with World Cup qualifying matches on the horizon, Fathi and Gedo felt they needed to play games. Hull chairman Assem Allam’s contacts in Cairo made a short-term transfer to East Yorkshire feasible, and the impact made by Gedo, who has scored five goals in his nine appearances for Hull, has been considerable. Fathi, despite the constant urgings of supporters back in Egypt – letters arrive on City manager Steve Bruce’s desk on a daily basis – has thus far been used only as a substitute. He didn’t even get on the bench against Nottingham Forest on Saturday.
From a footballing point of view then, the fact Fathi is relishing the prospect of playing for his country in a friendly against Switzerland this week, followed by a World Cup qualifier against Zimbabwe next Tuesday, is understandable. That he is not also apprehensive may be less so, because the causes of the violence were political and emotions continue to run very high.
Earlier this month there were further riots in both cities when a court handed down 21 death sentences but cleared a number of those accused, including seven policemen. Despite the volatility, however, Fathi insists he is not concerned about any possible danger. “For me Egypt is safe, absolutely. Cairo is a big place, and there is only trouble in one small area, and not big trouble. It’s not like it looks on the news. Even in the area where there is trouble, you can go in the car, you understand?
“It is true that no one knows what will happen in Egypt, but for now it is difficult but safe. Kids go to school, no problem. For you, maybe if you go to Egypt, you are afraid, but me, no. I am safe. I know everyone. I know what happens. It’s not like before, when you could stay out until three or four in the morning, no problem: now, just until 12. But maybe after a few more months everything is OK. Everything will be normal. I hope.”
Asked what he remembers of the events of 2 February 2012, Fathi speaks quietly. “We knew there would be a big problem with the match in Port Said. They are always difficult, but one of our players, who played for three years in Port Said, he knows the people, he told me he was afraid for this match, that friends in Port Said had told him it was no good for us to play.
“We travelled one day before, everything is OK. We go to the match, everything is OK. But when we go to warm up, already it is difficult. I went to the referee and said we should not play: he said it was OK, it was his choice, we can play.
“The start is delayed, but the first half is OK because the fans for Al-Ahly had not arrived. There can be many problems when you travel from Cairo to Port Said. They arrived after the first half, and then there is trouble. Many, many troubles.”
Seeing the early confrontations, some of the Al-Ahly players, Fathi recalls, stopped trying, believing that allowing the opposition to win might defuse the situation. It did not. At the final whistle a number of Al-Masry supporters, some armed with knives, sticks and stones, began attacking Al-Ahly players and fans, who fled where they could.
Fathi, having made it into the dressing room, recalls only general impressions amid the noise and chaos. “I remember the security disappeared. Maybe they were afraid. Or maybe [it was] not an accident.
“I remember injured supporters coming [into the dressing room] and I think two, maybe three, died. I remember it is four in the morning before we are taken away from the stadium in army vehicles. I remember going to see families of people who died before I went home.” He spent the next 10 days making such visits.
Several of his team-mates, including fellow internationals Mohamed Aboutrika and Mohamed Barakat, said they would never play football again. Al-Ahly’s coach, Manuel Jose, who was among those who were attacked, asked to be allowed to return to Portugal. “I have to think about my life differently now,” he said. “Although everybody loves me greatly here, this experience has changed my life completely.”
All three of Hull’s Egyptians are heading home this week. Gedo, national coach Bob Bradley has said, will lead the line in the match against Zimbabwe, which will be played at the Borg El-Arab stadium in Alexandria. For Elmohamady, the national team has an important role as a uniting force in the country. “When we play, everybody is together, all fans back us. We need to go to the World Cup to make the people happy. This is what we hope.”
Last month, to the surprise of some, the Egyptian domestic league resumed, albeit behind closed doors. Al-Ahly are also playing their fixtures in the African Champions League, adding to Fathi’s frustration.
“The league had to start, because we have a national team, we have big matches coming, the World Cup in Brazil. And it has started, and everything’s OK.
“Now Al-Ahly play Champions League again. They probably would like me and Gedo back, but we have contracts with Hull. But it’s a problem for me because I’m not playing. But I came from Egypt to play.”
He shrugs. “I’m not surprised about Gedo. I know he is a very good player – physical, fast, and when he has a chance, he scores. In Al-Ahly he has many more chances. Here, I tell him, ‘There will not be so many chances. Here you have a chance, you must score’, and he has. He’s a good player.
“I train very hard, I play for the reserves, but I stay on the bench. I don’t know why. The manager in Egypt told me before I came here, ‘Don’t go please, the league will start again, Champions League too, and I need you’. But I take my choice and come here. That is football. But I need to work. I have to work.”
Egyptian Tigers: Hull’s loanees
Position: Midfielder Age: 28
Egypt: 91 caps, 13 goals
Clubs: Ismaily SC (2000–2007), Sheffield United (2007, loan), Al-Ahly (2007-present), Kazma Sporting Club (2007–2008, loan), Hull City (2013-present, loan)
Hull: 3 appearances
Position: Forward Age: 28
Egypt: 31 caps, 17 goals
Clubs: Ala’ab Damanhour (2002–2005), Al Ittihad Al Sakandary (2005–2010), Al-Ahly (2010-present), Hull City (2013-present, loan)
Hull: 9 appearances, 5 goals
Position: Winger Age: 25
Egypt: 43 caps, 2 goals
Clubs: Ghazl El-Mahalla (2004–2006), ENPPI (2006–2011), Sunderland (2010–11, loan), Sunderland (2011-present), Hull City (2012-present, loan)
Hull: 33 appearances, 3 goals
Delighted to see The Guardian has begun a running blog along the same lines as its very popular cycling blog. If the standard of the opening effort, by Adharanand Finn, is maintained it will be well worth keeping up with, even if parts of it are recycled from his book Running with the Kenyans.
I’d like to cover athletics more than I do, so need to make the effort to do so. I’ve got pieces in all the Cricket magazines at the moment — All Out Cricket (Matt Boyce), The Cricketer (Chris Wright) and Spin (Adil Rashid) — as well as regular articles in The Cricket Paper, and of course there’s constant football, but for me variety isn’t just the spice of life, it stops me going a little bit crazy. Though non-league Luton’s win at Premier League Norwich in the FA Cup made life interesting. On the day I wrote reports for The Sunday Times, The Observer, The Independent on Sunday, and on the following day for The Guardian and The Independent. Long reports. By noon on the Sunday I didn’t have much left to say about the event.
Crumbs, it’s been a while. Partly because of hosting issues, partly because of pressure of work and partly because of laziness. But the last month or so has been very busy, one way or the other.
I’ve made an effort to do a lot of cricket in particular — mostly for The Cricket Paper, for which publication I’ve written up interview features with Liam Plunkett of Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire coach Mick Newell, Mark Wallace of Glamorgan — the new chairman of the Professional Cricketers’ Association — and Alan Richardson, the veteran Worcestershire bowler. I’ve also written for All Out Cricket, The Cricketer and Spin Magazine. None of the above put their articles on t’internet, so no links.
I’ve written a rugby feature for The Independent, on Northampton and England forward Courtney Lawes. It got a few likes and retweets.
But mainly it’s been loads of football of course, for The Guardian, Observer, Sunday Times, Independent and Independent on Sunday. Sometimes one, sometimes more, which can get a bit frantic, but more worthwhile. Over the Christmas holidays it was West Brom v Norwich, Norwich v Chelsea, Hull v Leeds and Birmingham v Cardiff. Then up to Blackburn v Notts Forest — on the back of Forest appointing Alex McLeish, covered for The Guardian. Then Forest v Palace. The FA Cup third round meant a short trip to Peterborough v Norwich, before heading over to Mansfield v Liverpool. Since then it’s been Wolves v Blackburn, Birmingham v Leeds, a feature with Bradford City manager Phil Parkinson for the ST, Leicester City v Middlesbrough — a match that should not have gone ahead — and Wigan v Sunderland.
I’ve put in links to some of the Guardian, Obs and Indy reports — doesn’t seem much point with the Sunday Times, which is behind a paywall.
For an awful lot of sportswriters out there right now, Frank Keating was a hero. Which would have pleased the old boy, though not for the reason you might think. As far as Frank Keating was concerned, sport was about heroes. He positively hero-worshipped Ian Botham — wrote a couple of books with and about him — and as one who felt much the same about Botham the cricketer, I understood where Keating was coming from.
To be honest, I first started buying The Guardian because FK was writing for the newspaper. Sympathising with the paper’s politics came later. One of my early sports editors, a dyed in the wool Yorkshireman called Bill Bridge at the Yorkshire Post — positively hated him — he’d been in the same Twickenham press box one day and heard Keating’s fruity tones begging some post-match quotes, and that was enough for Mr Bridge.
Anyway, David Hopps, a long-time colleague of FK’s, has written a smashing appreciation of him here. John Samuel, his former sports editor at The Guardian, has written one here. Both are well worth reading.
Sat down over a coffee with a cricketer called Chris Wright the other day. He’s a bowler who took loads of first division wickets for Warwickshire in the season just past, not much more than 12 months after being told he was being released by second division Essex. At 26 he was perilously close to being washed up, and admitted — with a surprising degree of insouciance — he was wondering how he was going to keep his young family. Now he’s got a county championship winner’s medal and has been picked by England for the performance squad — a big step down the road to international cricket. Perhaps the thought concentrated his mind. Anyway, here’s what he had to say, as printed in The Cricket Paper on 7th November.
Warwickshire bowling coach Graeme Welch gets a lot of the credit, and rightly so, but according to Chris Wright, the most important reason for the best season of his career was straightforward.
“Playing,” says the 27-year-old Warwickshire seamer, a week after accompanying his team-mates to Buckingham Palace to the official reception afforded the county champions.
“Being picked, being given responsibility, being relied on. I already knew ‘Pop’ [Welch] from working together at Essex and I knew he thought I could bowl. As a coach he doesn’t over-complicate things and fill your brain with nonsense: he simply gave me one or two little things to think about, tried to make sure I swung it consistently, and that was pretty much it.”
But even Wright is prepared to admit he could not have expected to pick up 62 wickets as the Bears won the county championship for the first time since 2004.
“I’d have taken 35, to be honest. When I signed for Warwickshire at the end of 2011 it looked a good squad of bowlers, the plan was to do quite a bit of rotation, and I was happy with that. Then Chris Woakes rolled his ankle in Barbados, Boyd Rankin picked up a stress fracture in his foot, and I was thrust in to a really important role.
“It was the same with Keith Barker, who like me was probably just hoping to play as much as he could. As a side we were all wondering how we’d get the 100-odd wickets Chris and Boyd were worth, but it did create an opportunity for myself and Keith, and we both took it, I think.”
Wright and Barker ended up playing 15 out of Warwickshire’s 16 championship fixtures. The previous season, before he moved to Warwickshire on loan for the final month, Wright had played just five championship matches for Essex, picking up 12 wickets.
“I was playing a fair amount of one-day cricket, and they rated me enough to have me bowling a lot of overs at the death, but not with the red ball. It was ironic really, because when they said they were going to let me go I was bowling well in the Essex Twos, which isn’t the same standard I know, but a good ball is still a good ball.
“So from my point of view the timing was quite good. In fairness to Essex they said they’d help me moving, and when the offer to go on loan came about they were happy for me to do it. It would have been odd if they hadn’t because I wasn’t in their plans, but still.”
He left with a mixture of memories, some good, some, well, not so good. The match-fixing scandal involving Danish Kaneria and Mervyn Westfield left him bewildered.
“I was quite young and not being a senior player, it was all a bit over my head. It was a strange feeling though. When Tony Palladino told me what was going on I remember thinking how sorry I felt for him, because Merv just dropped a bomb on him really.
“When it surfaced you started looking back on games and wondering about stuff, which was a weird feeling, but thankfully it’s long gone now. I’m chuffed that Tony had such a great season for Derbyshire this year, he’s a skilful bowler, he’s very fit, he bowls a lot of overs and always gives it everything. I’m looking forward to playing against him next season.”
Even so, when Essex told him they intended to release him, and before a necessarily persistent Welch eventually persuaded Warwickshire director of cricket Ashley Giles to bring him in on loan, did Wright fear his career was petering out?
“Initially,yes. But the day after Gloucestershire showed they were keen, I think [Essex team-mate] Dave Masters spoke to them for me, so knowing there was interest was a great relief. Then Pop got in touch and talked about going to Warwickshire on loan: from my point of view it was more of a gamble, but [Gloucestershire Director of Cricket] John Bracewell was great and said they didn’t mind me trying. If they’d said they didn’t want me to, I wouldn’t have gone.
“If no-one had come in I’d have tried Minor Counties or Unicorns and tried to get back on ladder that way rather than just giving up. I just love playing cricket and I’d have given it my best shot to get back in.”
The gamble paid off, Wright taking 22 wickets in four games for the Bears and being given a three year contract. Last winter he built up fitness and strength, and when required by extraordinary circumstances to lead the attack, responded superbly. While every Warwickshire player made match-winning contributions throughout the season, it seemed fitting that Wright, bowling as quickly as he had all year, took the championship-winning wicket against Worcestershire.
“We were reasonably disciplined and the conditions were usually helpful, but they were the same for both sides and sometimes we swung the ball when other teams didn’t,” points out Wright. “We did work on that all previous winter and I know ‘Pop’ thinks it was a massive factor in our success, that every seamer moves the ball. It’s certainly something we have to keep doing.”
It is something Wright hopes will keep happening when he joins up with the England performance later this month: he has not actually turned his arm over in anger since pulling up after bowling three overs in September’s incredibly tense CB40 Final.
“I thought I’d torn my side, but nothing showed up on scans or test and I’ve done gym sessions since and been fine, so fingers crossed. I probably needed the break though, I’m a newbie when it comes to year-round cricket.
“It could be a pretty full-on winter because there’s the month in India and then the Lions trip to Australia, which I really want to try and get on, in the new year, then Warwickshire’s pre-season to Barbados and then as champions we play the MCC in Abu Dhabi.
“I think the Lions squad announced when we get back from India, and all I can do is the best I can with the performance squad and hope. I had a chat to ‘Woakesy’, who has been in a few EPPs, but he didn’t give much away.”
The suggestion that may be because in international terms he sees his county team-mate as a rival makes Wright grin.
“It’s an ambition, but one thing I have learned is not to get too far ahead of myself. The key is to keep improving as individuals and as a team, because expectations will be that much higher next season. “
Another grin. “Though that isn’t to say we didn’t give ourselves a little time to celebrate.”
Celebrations deservedly enjoyed, the Warwickshire players have begun thinking about next season.
“Not in too much depth yet, just how badly we want to do it again, and to do that we’ll have to prepare even better. We’ll start going into the processes of that when we get back together. We have a good age profile in the squad, most of us are in their mid to late 20s, with a couple of youngsters coming through and that suggests we can be successful for a few years.
“It’s not absolutely to have a great team ethic to win, but it certainly helps, and it’s a big part of what’s been created at Warwickshire. Jim Troughton sets the tone in that respect, but a lot of guys have come through the club, including most of the coaching staff, Ashley, Dougie Brown, Pop, even the physio, they’ve all been there a long time. I’m still new to it, but I’m starting to understand.”
A couple of weeks which have included rugby for The Guardian — London Welsh being thrashed by Stade Francais — and some cricket features for The Cricket Paper (not online), but a lot of football, as ever. Most interestingly, on Friday 19 October I was at Hillsborough for the match between Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United when all hell broke loose. Or at least a moronic Leeds supporter ran on the pitch and shoved the Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper to the ground, which as the media is concerned pretty much amounts to the same thing.
In the end The Guardian abandoned the match report and just took a big news story for the Sport section front page. What was a little frustrating was the editor’s decision to use some quotes from the Leeds manager Neil Warnock taken from the TV coverage, when I wanted to use only what he’d said to the written press some time later. His mood had changed a little by then, he’d become slightly less apologetic, and for me, it made the piece stronger because it made him look even more of an idiot (which being Warnock, is going some).
Sometimes you need the duty editor to trust you. Good ones do.
Strange as it sounds, from a journalist’s point of view a stinkingly poor game can be quite fun to write about. This from The Guardian on Monday 8 October 2012.
Wasps edge Worcester but quality is in short supply at Adams Park
• London Wasps 10–6 Worcester
• Simon McIntyre try proves decisive in error-strewn scrap
Richard Rae at Adams Park
It was entirely appropriate that a final two minutes of tension as Worcester battered away at the Wasps line in search of a winning try should have come to an end when Blair Cowan spilled the ball forward in the tackle. In perfect conditions the error count in this match was almost grotesque.
Knock-ons, fumbles, possession coughed-up in the opposition 22, missed kicks to touch and at the posts, stupid penalties conceded, ridiculous forward passes, own lineouts lost, this game had the lot, and in sizeable quantity.
Finding positives, then, was not an easy task for either coach. Wasps’ Dai Young at least had the comfort of having come out on top, though as he acknowledged, his side would have beaten very few other teams with such a performance.
“We showed a lot of heart to keep them out at the end but our kicking game was second best, our ball retention was downright poor and, in the second half especially, our set piece fell apart,” Young said. “We found a way to win but we have to be better than that.”
The Wasps flanker Joe Launchbury — man of the match almost by default after playing something resembling his usual mobile game – did come in for a word of praise. “People talk about him as a star of the future but he’s already a top-quality player,” said Young of the 20-year-old. “I think England see his long-term future as a second row and that’s how I see it because being still young and maturing he’s going to get bigger and bigger.”
Worcester’s Richard Hill began his assessment with an apology. “Sorry to have subjected everybody to that,” he said. “It was a shocker. Neither team played well but we played marginally worse. Credit to Wasps for holding out at the end, we might have sneaked it but I’m not sure we deserved to,” said the Warriors’ head coach
“Both teams tried hard, but there were so many individual errors. Our lineout just did not function, especially in attacking positions. Apart from the first two minutes, when Wasps scored their try, it was pretty dour.” That first few minutes saw Launchbury’s charge to within a few feet of the Worcester line give the Wasps’ drive a momentum that ended in the prop Simon McIntyre crossing from short range for his first try for the club.
Stephen Jones converted and went on to kick a penalty on the quarter hour, a deserved return for Wasps’ territorial superiority but from then on the game became what a shambles, not helped by a fussy referee.
Worcester should have been level at the break but Andy Goode hit the post with a simple penalty and the full-back Chris Pennell, with one man to beat and a team-mate screaming for the inside pass, unaccountably attempted a chip kick that went straight into touch.
Jones, who came into this game having kicked 15 goals from 15 attempts since joining Wasps, duly missed twice, and though Goode dropped an extraordinary goal from the half-way line, the experienced stand-off otherwise had the sort of game that could see him waking sweating in the night for weeks to come.
Asked why highly trained professionals sometimes play that badlyto explain the poor display from both sides, Hill shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know why players made uncharacteristic individual errors. Both teams got into the opposition 22 and had opportunities, but couldn’t capitalise because of errors. You have to turn pressure into points.
“We just couldn’t hold on to the ball almost until that final passage of play when they defended superbly to keep us out. It’s particularly frustrating because we saw it as an opportunity to win three consecutive Premiership games – London Irish last week, Wasps today and Sale when they come to Worcester in a couple of weeks.”
On this evidence, he could not be confident of Worcester beating Sale under-15s. Mind you, neither could Wasps.
Wasps Southwell; Varndell, Masi (Daly 61), Bell, Wade; Jones, Simpson; McIntyre (Swainston 74), Lindsay, Taulafo, Palmer (Poff 54), Wentzel, Launchbury, Haskell (Johnson 66), Vunipola.
Try McIntyre. Con Jones. Pen Jones.
Worcester Pennell (Carlisle 66); Clarke, Grove, Matavesi (Fatiaki 52), Lemi; Goode, Arr (Hodgson 66); Mullan (Jones 74), Lutui (Hayes 74), Andress (Currie 74), Percival, Schofield (Gillies 61), Jones, Betty, Kvesic (Cowan 61).
Pen Goode. Drop-goal Goode.
Referee L Geraint-Roberts. Attendance 5,232
Picked up a second-hand copy of Athletics — How to become a Champion — A discursive textbook by Percy Wells Cerutty the other day.
The portentous title tells you something about the author, by most accounts a man who did not suffer from insecurity regarding his own talents, but he was a genuinely remarkable individual. He trained his athletes (and himself) in Portsea, near Melbourne in Australia, in the 1950s and 60s, and was in many respects well ahead of his time. Mainly, perhaps, in that he appreciated the need for total dedication to achieve success, not just in terms of physical training but in lifestyle.
Some of his views tended to the extreme — though his contempt for politicians will strike a modern chord — but his own athletic achievements — in middle age and beyond — bore out the validity of much of what he preached. His greatest protege was of course Herb Elliott, the amazing Australian miler who smashed the world record and object achieved, retired from the sport at 22. Cerutty’s training regime in an idyllic location on the Victorian coast included repeated runs up and down sand dunes — this, courtesy of YouTube, is well worth a few minutes of your time.
The end of the domestic cricket season, and the already fading memories of the Olympics and Paralympics, means it’s back to football — not that it feels like it ever really went away. Last weekend I watched Manchester City get a draw at Stoke, for the Sunday Times, and Leicester City lose at Wolves for the Guardian and Sunday Times Online.
Otherwise the previous fortnight was taken up with the wonderful county championship — four more splendid days at Hove, watching Somerset pull off an extraordinary last day win against Sussex, at the end of which Peter Trego told me there was more chance of him ‘growing a second winkie’ than being selected for England, and four in the less superficially attractive but as from next season equally important surroundings of the County Ground in Derby.
That’s because Derbyshire will of course be playing against Sussex and Somerset in the first division next season. The final day’s report, which got 750 words in the Guardian, can be seen here, otherwise all the reports are on the Guardian’s website.
One of the sad things about the end of the cricket season is the suspension of the Guardian’s county cricket blog, to which the cricket writers contribute and comment. As the season goes on you get to know the characters of the contributors, and it being the Guardian, they tend to be intelligent and quirky individuals as opposed to the idiotic ranters to whom the internet often offers an outlet. Have a read of the comments on the blog from the last day of the season and you’ll see what I mean.
I will miss them all and only hope it all resumes next April, though news of the Guardian’s latest annual loss — some £75m according to Private Eye — make you wonder exactly what will be happening next year.