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Stinkers can be good

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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

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

 

Originally published in The Guardian

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Written by RichardRae

October 9th, 2012 at 5:20 pm

Opinions are like — well, you know the rest.

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In the last ten years alone I suppose I’ve filed well over a thousand match reports for quality national news­pa­pers on football, cricket and rugby alone, and while most have hopefully been accurate and therefore inof­fen­sive, there are times when something I’ve written has upset readers.
Sometimes I know that’s going to be the case, but it can’t be helped because I feel strongly about an issue. In my case that usually pertains to county cricket. A few years ago, writing for The Guardian, I was tolerably scathing about the match umpires and the Hampshire grounds­man when an entire day’s play was lost despite not a single drop of rain falling, essen­tially because the covers had been too slow in going on the day before, and once on, were inad­e­quate.
The next morning said Hampshire grounds­man marched into the press box and con­fronted me. We had a civilised dis­cus­sion and shook hands, and that was fine. What shook me a bit was that one of the umpires — all right, it was Jerry Lloyds — told me later that day, when they’d finally deigned to come out and explain what was going on, that what I’d written was ‘dis­gust­ing’.
I felt pretty miserable until my col­leagues Kate Laven and George Dobell jollied me out of it. Later the following day I was sitting in the crowd, as is sometimes my wont, and saw a photocopy of my article being passed around the Hampshire members to general approval, which made me feel better still.
Curiously enough something similar happened this summer, when a Kent player claimed a catch which I pointed out under the laws of the game simply couldn’t have been legal. I was roundly cas­ti­gated by one older member of the press corps, who said the umpires had said it was OK and that should be the end of it. Later in the season he judged a new county cricket reporting award. I didn’t win.
But in those cir­cum­stances you have a fair idea what’s going to happen. It was less expected last Sunday, when a number of Norwich City sup­port­ers took umbrage at my sug­ges­tion for The Observer that Swansea City might have deserved something from their match at Carrow Road. Looking back I probably was a bit generous to the Swans, but the abuse, via comments on the internet and twitter, was remark­able. Given it was The Observer some of it was clever and amusing, but plenty wasn’t. No doubt it’s still out there somewhere.
As I pointed out to one of the more literate com­menters, it’s simply a matter of opinion, and I’ve earned the right to express mine through hard work, expe­ri­ence and some sort of ability to express myself. After all, you can’t watch as many matches — and different teams — as I’ve watched without learning something.
Does it bother me that it bothers me? Yes, a little. Because surely there are so many more important things for people to get upset about.

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Written by RichardRae

October 19th, 2011 at 3:37 pm

News Corpsing

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As one who has long taken the News Corps shilling, both under contract and as a freelance (working for The Sunday Times) it’s been a curious sensation watching the company writhing around in an unwelcome spotlight in the last week or so.
I don’t feel as though I owe it anything — other than gratitude for the initial oppor­tu­nity, obviously — firstly because at every level, the company ensures it gets its moneys-worth out of you, and secondly because it doesn’t hesitate to cut you adrift when it feels the financial need. Which is fair enough, though as I say, one con­se­quence is it doesn’t engender any real feeling of loyalty, and so I’ve been following events with a certain sense of detach­ment.
But surely there isn’t anyone in the country, even News Corps jour­nal­ists, who isn’t delighted? Not just about the exposure, and hopefully ending, of underhand practices such as phone-tapping, but about the chance to tear down the web of craven, self-serving politi­cians, unscrupu­lous jour­nal­ists and corrupt police officers which has been making our country anything but a democracy. It’s the miserable dis­hon­esty of that slimy cabal which has got to end, and thanks be to The Guardian for having the guts to turn over the stone in the first place. It behoves every single one of us to get on to our MPs (espe­cially if they’re lobby fodder) and keep the pressure up — the website theyworkforyou.com is a good starting point.
But that, as Daisy said to Tom, is personal. As a sports­writer, there’s nothing you can do other cope with the inad­e­quacy of knowing that while the world is being changed by other jour­nal­ists, you are telling people Leicestershire are 152–4.

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Written by RichardRae

July 18th, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Heat turned up on Houllier

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Villa Park. Fine stadium. Not such a fine team, at time of writing.

Aston Villa 0 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 (Jarvis 39)

By Richard Rae at Villa Park.

Shortly before kick-off, a large banner was bran­dished in the Holte
End on which was written ‘Had enough. Houllier out.’
Free speech being as foreign a concept to some Premier League clubs as it is to many Middle Eastern despots, said banner was quickly removed, although how many Villa fans actually agreed with the sentiment
expressed is a moot point, given the action of the stewards appeared to receive as much applause as the banner’s appear­ance. One thing is certain however; there are a lot more after what has been an awful few
days for Aston Villa.
It is hard to say which is more embar­rass­ing, the fining of Richard Dunne and James Collins after a team bonding exercise exposed the con­sid­er­able divisions within the camp, or the per­for­mance of team and
man­age­ment yesterday.
Replacing the teenage left-back Nathan Baker after half an hour was an admission of error by the beleagured Gerard Houllier, but the second half sub­sti­tu­tion of young winger Marc Albrighton, who had offered Villa’s only con­sis­tent threat, was inviting the inevitable, and the Frenchman was duly informed that he did not know what he was doing.
By the end of the match, won by a crisp first-half volley by Matt Jarvis to give Wolves a first win at Villa Park for 31 years, the anger was pretty much universal.
Houllier said he under­stood and shared the frus­tra­tion. “They are not happy with me, I am not happy with what we are doing,” he shrugged, before adding with a smile; “But please, assure them I do know what I
am doing.”
Villa looked slightly happier and more co-ordinated going forward than at the back, but that it was Wolves who carried the greater threat was apparent when they had two ‘goals’ dis­al­lowed. The first, when
Christophe Berra headed in a Nenad Milijas free-kick, was for offside, the second, more curiously, when the same linesman decided Matt Jarvis’s cross had curled out of play before being nodded in by Kevin
Doyle.
In the cir­cum­stances the visitors deserved to take the lead, and did so when Berra’s header fell nicely for Jarvis on the edge of the penalty area to hit a low volley crisply beyond Villa goal­keeper Brad Friedel.
With Bent isolated up front, Villa’s attempts to get back into the game lacked con­vic­tion, though they were unlucky when Richard Stearman fouled Bent inside the penalty area, only for referee Phil Dowd to give a free-kick on the edge of the box.
Unfathomably, Houllier then replaced Nigel Reo-Coker and Albrighton with Robert Pires and Gabby Agbonlahor and there­after Villa were for the most part a shambles. They gave the ball away with embar­rass­ing
frequency and Wolves squan­dered several good chances to extend their lead before, out of nothing and possibly from an offside position, Ashley Young drove a shot against the underside of the bar.
Wolves manager Mick McCarthy empathised with Houllier but did not sym­pa­thise.
“I’ve been there, and I’d prefer it to be him and 18 others than me, so I don’t give a flying flute. We
wanted to drag them into the mire with us, and there’s no question that’s where they are,” he said.

Star man; Matt Jarvis (Wolves)
Booked; Stearman, Elokobi, Young, Foley.
Att; 38,965.

Aston Villa (4–4-1–1 from right); Friedel 6; Walker 6, Cuellar 6, Herd
6, Baker 5 (Delph 32, 6); Albrighton 6 (Agbonlahor 61), Reo-Coker 6
(Pires 61), Makoun 5, Downing 5; Young 5; Bent 5.

Subs not used: Marshall, Bradley, Heskey, Petrov.

Wolves (4–4-1–1 from right); Hennessey 7; Elokobi 6, Stearman 6, Berra
7, Foley 7; Hammill 7, Ebanks-Blake 65). Henry 7, Milijas 7, Jarvis 8
(Ward 80); O’Hara 7; Doyle 7.

Subs not used: Hahnemann, Craddock, Kightly, Fletcher, Jones.

Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire)

Originally published in The Sunday Times.

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Written by RichardRae

March 20th, 2011 at 12:32 pm

Wolves’ latest scalp brings sense of relief for Fletcher

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Not available for comment, but not sulking at all

Wolverhampton Wanderers 2 Manchester United 1

By Richard Rae at Molineux

You would have to put them on the rack before they might admit it, but amid the obviously sincere dis­ap­point­ment expressed by Manchester United’s staff and players at the ending of their run of 29 matches unbeaten in the league, there may also have been just the faintest sense of relief.

How else to explain the lack of urgency, let alone des­per­a­tion, as they chased the game on a wild and wet Wolverhampton evening? Shorn of the com­fort­ing presence of Rio Ferdinand, who suffered a calf injury in the warm-up, and faced by a Wolves side buoyed by the knowledge it had already beaten Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City and Sunderland, United, having gone ahead with an early Nani strike which beat Wayne Hennessey at his near post, barely created a chance worthy of the name through­out the entire second period.

For Alex Ferguson to take defeat as well as he appar­ently did suggested the Scot himself may have become aware that the need to avoid defeat had, uncon­sciously or otherwise, begun to inhibit his players. Not, as Mick McCarthy pointed out, that it prevented Ferguson informing his opposite number that he had been “a lucky so and so”.

Actually, he didn’t say ‘so and so’, he said something else,” grinned the Yorkshireman. “And I said, ‘Great, I’m delighted you’re saying that,’ because I’ve waited years and years and years to be called a lucky so and so by Alex. But he said it with his tongue in his cheek and a smile on his face and said we’d earned it.”

So they did, with a per­for­mance of such defensive energy and com­mit­ment that it must drive McCarthy quietly bonkers. How, he was asked, could a side which has now beaten five of the Premier League’s top seven sides still be bottom of the league? There was a certain dry humour in his response – “Because we’ve been bobbins against the teams around us” – but no one at Molineux will be laughing if a squad of players which can beat the best goes down because it cannot summon up the col­lec­tive will-power to play with similar deter­mi­na­tion against lesser sides.

Whether they will make it six out of the top seven by beating Arsenal on Saturday remains to be seen, but United, as Darren Fletcher pointed out, can con­cen­trate on preparing for a poten­tially crucial Manchester derby.

Maybe people will stop talking about the run now,” said the mid­fielder. “The main thing for us is to win the league, not to stay unbeaten. We could have remained unbeaten all season and not won the league: what point would that have made?

Now we will have to show character, and we have a great oppor­tu­nity because matches don’t come much bigger than the Manchester derby. We will be ready for that game.”

Roberto Mancini’s team will need to be wary because Fletcher’s words sounded as much like a threat as a promise, but with Ferdinand already out, Ferguson will be hoping there is no further fallout from the this week’s internationals.

To my mind [sched­ul­ing midweek inter­na­tion­als] is crazy but we have to get on with it,” he told a tele­vi­sion inter­viewer. “We have plenty of players who are not involved in inter­na­tional games and they will all play next week. We have to give con­sid­er­a­tion to the ones who are trav­el­ling, have to play, and then come back for the City game on Saturday lunchtime.”

That United missed Ferdinand was unques­tion­able, though the blame for the goals pow­er­fully headed home by George Elokobi, and for­tu­nately deflected in by Kevin Doyle, for once lay more at the door of captain Nemanja Vidic than Ferdinand’s late stand-in Jonny Evans.

Yet to single out any United player for criticism would be unfair on a day when the col­lec­tive failure was exem­pli­fied by the remark­able sight of Ryan Giggs, of all people, kicking out at Doyle as the Wolves striker cheekily attempted to waste a little time.

Had the referee seen it clearly Giggs would surely have received the first red card of his career, and it can only have been his saintly rep­u­ta­tion which led to Doyle rather than the Welshman receiving an official ticking-off.

I imagine if it had been a Wolves player chal­leng­ing him it might have been different,” said Doyle, nursing a bloodied nose and thick lip after getting an elbow in the face from Chris Smalling.

To be fair, I was acting a bit of an idiot by hanging on to the ball, and he probably deserves a bit of leeway after the career he’s had and all the games he’s played. I wouldn’t like to see him get done for it but it was strange me getting on the receiving end of the ref’s tongue for it!”

Scorers: Wolves Elokobi 10, Doyle 40. Manchester United Nani 3.

Subs: Wolves Foley (O’Hara, 59), Ward (Hammill, 64), Ebanks-Blake (Milijas, 88). Unused Hahnemann (gk), Craddock, Edwards, Fletcher.

Man Utd Scholes (Carrick, 46), Smalling (Evans, 65), Hernandez (Berbatov, 65). Unused Kuszczak (gk), O’Shea, Anderson, Owen. Booked: Wolves Henry, O’Hara Man Utd Scholes, Rooney.

Man of the match Elokobi Match rating: 6/10.

Possession Wolves 51% Man Utd 49%.

Attempts on target Wolves 5 Man Utd 7.

Referee M Oliver (Northumberland). Att 28,811.

Originally published in The Independent on Monday February 7th, 2011.

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Written by RichardRae

February 9th, 2011 at 9:23 am

Just like old times …

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Don’t forget

Having sent in my copy from the press room at Bloomfield Road, Blackpool on Saturday, I was packing up for the long drive home when a very good sports­writer sitting alongside me began to curse. Coming up to deadline, he couldn’t get his lap top to connect to the internet.
We have all probably been in this situation at some time or other, but these days there is no safety net. In days of yore each newspaper used to have copy­tak­ers you could phone and to whom you would dictate your copy, spelling out names as you went. Not so very long ago of course — say 20 years or so — the copy­tak­ers were all you had. It was usually an efficient lady in Wetherby, where the PA had their copy­tak­ers based. Then along came a machine called a ‘Tandy’ which phoned your office from your computer and sent your copy down the wires, saving you lots of time — as long as it worked.
Pretty soon most of us had some sort of cable which connected your computer to your mobile phone, and thence to the office computer. The advent of wifi in many press boxes made that redundant after five or six years, and now, if there isn’t wifi available, everybody has a dongle as back-up.
Problems sending copy to the office are therefore very rare, but no matter what my colleague tried, he couldn’t get his computer connected to the internet. Believe me, the sense of mounting panic in those cir­cum­stances is horrible. My colleague was fortunate, in that he works for a newspaper with a very decent sports editor. In the end somebody lent him a memory stick, and he used my laptop, but for a few moments it felt very much like old times. The moral of the story, of course, is to make sure a memory stick is always in your laptop bag. If the worst then comes to the worst, another jour­nal­ist will usually help you out. Contrary to their rep­u­ta­tion, most sports­writ­ers will help a fellow journo having problems. After all, there aren’t that many of us left.
It’s been a busy few days — West Brom (football feature, Independent on Sunday), Blackpool (football match report Sunday Times, Guardian), Leicester (Rugby match report, The Indy), a couple of subbing shifts at BBC Online.

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Written by RichardRae

January 23rd, 2011 at 9:16 pm

Great expectations as Leeds begin to see good times

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Second in the table and unbeaten in their last nine matches, Simon Grayson’s side finally seem to be pulling together. Richard Rae reports from Elland Road.

THERE was much talk about levels of expec­ta­tion at Elland Road on Saturday, and to be sure, they are con­sid­er­able.
Not nec­es­sar­ily of quality, as anyone who witnessed the numbers of garden gnomes in club colours being carried proudly to the tills in the heaving super­store would attest. But in beating Championship leaders Queens Park Rangers, extending an unbeaten run to nine matches and moving into second in the table, it is fair to say Leeds United are exceeding the expec­ta­tions of the most gnomic of their noto­ri­ously partisan sup­port­ers.
Not least because, as a group of still slightly wide-eyed fans in the train back from the previous week’s remark­able comeback at Burnley pointed out, it is essen­tially the same team that only just secured automatic promotion from the League One. Or even a weaker team, given top scorer Jermaine Beckford moved to Everton on a free transfer over the summer.
It certainly looked that way at the end of October, when Cardiff City came to West Yorkshire and ripped Leeds to shreds on live tele­vi­sion. That made it four defeats in five games for Simon Grayson’s side, and the turn­around since is as much a testament to their young manager as it undoubt­edly is to the players.
Firstly, he acted to improve his defence by bringing in the expe­ri­enced centre-half Andy O’Brien on loan from Bolton. A local boy still living in nearby Harrogate, O’Brien has played with the com­mit­ment of one who would very much like to sign the permanent deal which by all accounts Leeds intend to offer him next month.
Secondly, helped by the return to fitness of the hugely talented Scottish wide mid­fielder Robert Snodgrass, Grayson changed the way the team was playing from 4–4-2 to 4–2-3–1. With O’Brien a calming organ­i­sa­tional influence at the back, and Bradley Johnson and Neil Kilkenny as the holding players, inspi­ra­tional young captain Jonathan Howson has licence to drive forward with Snodgrass and the Ivorian Max-Alain Gradel on either side of him, creating chances for both them­selves as a trio and the lone centre-forward Luciano Becchio.
While far from perfect — the absence of O’Brien through injury saw Leeds revert to their former defen­sively suspect ways in the first half against Burnley before Grayson got hold of them at half-time — the system seems to suit the players.
“When we conceding a lot of goals and strug­gling to keep clean sheets earlier in the season, it wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily the back four that was the problem: they were making a few mistakes, but indi­vid­u­als in front of them weren’t doing their jobs, and now we’re defending as a group” said Grayson as a crowd of almost 30,000 departed happily.
“You can sense they’re enjoying what they’re doing at the moment, and that’s a big factor. But the reality in a tight division is all we’ve done is give ourselves an oppor­tu­nity. We hope to build on it, but we can also still get relegated — you can lose a few games and con­fi­dence can dwindle away. Our first aim was con­sol­i­da­tion, making sure we would stay in the division, and that hasn’t changed.”
The time to take stock, he insisted, would be after the Christmas period.
Not all in the gnome-filled garden is rosy. The issue of who or what actually owns the club remains unre­solved, and chairman Ken Bates’ tight hold on the club’s purse-strings could result in several out-of-contract players leaving next month. One, the increas­ingly impres­sive young Argentine striker Becchio, signed a new five year deal on Saturday, but the future of Johnson and Kilkenny in par­tic­u­lar remains uncertain.
Grayson is phleg­matic. “We have players who will be out of contract , and we hope to try and resolve those issues, but I don’t think given where we are in the league attract­ing new players will be too difficult — if I decide it’s the right thing to do. We’ve got a group of players who have done well, and when that happens sometimes you have to stay loyal to them.
This Thursday marks two years since Grayson was recruited from Blackpool to take over at Leeds, then going nowhere in League One under Gary McAllister. Whatever the general opinion on Bates’s stew­ard­ship, that at least is an appoint­ment for which the former Chelsea owner continues to gain con­sid­er­able credit.

The club at a glance

Ground: Elland Road, 39,460.

Average atten­dance: (league, 11 matches) 25,957

Manager: Simon Grayson; first-team coaches Ian Miller, Glynn Snodin

Owner: Refuse to say but deemed fit and proper by the Football league

Chairman: Ken Bates

Turnover (2008–09) £23.5m; Operating loss £1.6m; Total wage bill £12.3m

Debt: Once £103m, now nothing, according to Bates. “We made a profit last year. We don’t owe anybody any money. We have a little bit in the bank, but not much,” he told Sky Sports in November.

Net spend in last transfer window: Unknown; 10 summer signings, seven on frees, three undisclosed

Biggest signing at club: Ross McCormack reported £300,000 (August 2010)

Biggest ever signing: Rio Ferdinand £18m

Originally posted at The Guardian

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Written by RichardRae

December 22nd, 2010 at 9:25 am

Mr Sheen makes everything clear

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Michael Sheen, polished by Brian Horton

Finally caught up with ‘The Damned United’. Enjoyed it, not least because I met Michael Sheen on the football field once.
For those of a certain sporting gen­er­a­tion, there is something nos­tal­gi­cally com­fort­ing about his portrayal of Brian Clough.
Not so much because of the actor’s recre­ation, largely though brilliant mimicry, of an extra­or­di­nary character who figured large in our youthful past, as for his evocation of a sort of football manager who no longer figures in the modern, sci­en­tific game.
It isn’t just Clough up there on the screen, it’s a whole gen­er­a­tion of sarcastic, frus­trated men whose jobs depended on the slack-jawed idiots under their command doing what they’ve been told to do, and it’s a per­for­mance that was born on the Zeneca Recreation Ground, Leeds Road, Huddersfield, twelve years ago.
And I, as Peter Tinniswood’s Brigadier would say, was there.
The press release that arrived on the sports desk of the Yorkshire Post was irre­sistible, though as it turned out, only to me. Three actors from The Royal Shakespeare Company, then per­form­ing Henry V up the road at the Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, would spend a morning training with Huddersfield Town Football Club. The Earl of Westmorland, The Dauphin, and King Henry himself would be mixing it with the Terriers, then of Division One, but under­go­ing the worst start to the season in the history of the club. It was early October, they had yet to win a league game, and with the vultures gathering, then manager Brian Horton was pretty much at the end of his tether. Enter bravely, stage left, Stephen Bent, Tristan Gemmill and one Michael Sheen.
They dressed the part. Westmorland turned out to be a goal­keeper, who once played for Lancashire schools and claimed to have had trails for Oldham, and was clad in luminous green. Unfortunately Stephen Bent was, and pre­sum­ably still is, short, had a dodgy knee, and he sub­se­quently admitted, only one eye, so while his dives had a certain grace, they were very, very late.
Gemmill, who must have made a striking Dauphin, was built like a rugby centre, and was good enough in the air to gain the odd nod of appre­ci­a­tion and be approv­ingly chris­tened ‘Triss’ by Horton. But while the pale, slight, curly-haired Sheen probably conformed to the players’ image of an actor, it rapidly became clear ’Mikey’ was the star, on the field as he was on the stage. Neat, quick, with a good first touch, he didn’t look out of place in any of the passing exercises, and you could believe an Arsenal youth coach had once invited him to come for a trial. Once Horton started a match however, the three wisely sat out. There is only so much humil­i­a­tion a pro­fes­sional foot­baller can take, and being nutmegged by Henry V might have prompted the sort of revenge which would have required Sheen to play the role in a wheel­chair.
No longer bound by the presence of guests, Horton really began to let rip. The abuse tended to the general rather than personal, but the timing was such that an offending indi­vid­ual cannot but have known who was to blame. Listening with obvious fas­ci­na­tion to Horton’s increas­ingly apoplec­tic and inventive curses as he rounded on his players, Sheen responded manfully to an invi­ta­tion to reflect on the sim­i­lar­i­ties between directing Shakespeare — at the time he was con­sid­ered an up and coming director, as well as an actor — and managing a pro­fes­sional football team, not imme­di­ately apparent to any watching aesthetes.
“Well, he’s urging greater appli­ca­tion, as I might do to a company of actors, although he has a different way of express­ing it. He’s trying to relax them,” said Sheen, raising his voice as, I swear, a scream of ‘Get your fucking fingers out!’ echoed around the ground.

Cloughie — per­ma­nently taking the plaudits.

When I suggested all three actors had appeared com­fort­able with the physical demands of Horton’s regime, Sheen mildly replied that the demands of a three hour daily per­for­mance — two, some days — kept them in tolerable condition, and that the RSC them­selves had a useful team at the time, though he admitted they’d lost last time out to the Cyrano de Bergerac company. It was some time after the players had dis­ap­peared before I had the nerve to approach Horton, and ask him what he thought of the trio.
“They’re as good foot­ballers as we are actors, which is to say not great” said Horton, with­er­ingly, his face still red and lips still flecked with spittle. “On the other hand, as I‘ve got a good few actors in my team already, they’d probably fit right in.” Two days later, he was sacked. Peter Jackson was brought in, and somehow Town survived.
As, obviously, did the actors. Bent recently had a prominent role in Life on Mars, Gemmill a long-running part in Casualty. Sheen, however, clearly tucked something away. It’s taken time, but at last Brian Horton has inspired a brilliant performance.

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Written by RichardRae

November 25th, 2010 at 10:24 am

Keep reading

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It’s possible to become jaded in this business, certainly when it comes to keeping up with the latest sports books. Jaded AND out of pocket, con­sid­er­ing there are so many of them, and even the awful ones — and plenty fall into that category — usually contain a nugget or two. But you can’t read them all, so may I commend to you my Independent colleague Jon Culley’s website, The Sports Bookshelf. It does a pretty good job of sorting the wheat.
My own all-time greatest sports­book, inci­den­tally, is Farewell to Sport, by the great American sports­writer Paul Gallico. My well-thumbed copy was published, which is to say re-published, by SportsPages. I haven’t seen it in the shops for a long time, but no doubt it’s available through various second-hand outlets online.
Gallico, who went on to become a respected novelist and base himself in England, covered US sport in the 1920s and 1930s. Every word, every insight is a fresh and relevant today as it was then.

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Written by RichardRae

November 2nd, 2010 at 7:16 pm

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Racking up the miles

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Sometimes freelance sports jour­nal­ism can mean spending an awful lot of time in the car. Mixing Korean Grand Prix work for the BBC with football and other com­mit­ments means that over a five day period I’ll have driven well over 1,000 miles — Bath, home, London, home, Birmingham, London, home, Ipswich, home. Home is Stamford, by the way.
Ordinarily of course I’d use the train for at least some of the journeys, or possibly found a rea­son­able hotel, but aspiring free­lances should be aware that unless you live in London, it’s almost impos­si­ble to get a train home after an evening game.
Incidentally, only some news­pa­pers pay travel expenses. The Sunday Times, for whom I’ve worked for approach­ing 12 years, pays free­lancers, whether con­tracted or not, 24p a mile — a rate unchanged in all that time. Staffers get 40p.
The Guardian, bless them, pay 40p, whether you’re staff or not. Also unchanged for many years.
Not whinging, by the way — it’s just how this ridicu­lous life works sometimes. Some jour­nal­ists are probably brave enough to turn down work if the distances become ridicu­lous. Not me! So, ho for St Andrews and Birmingham City v Blackpool!

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Written by RichardRae

October 23rd, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Posted in Sport

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