Archives for posts with tag: sport

Some final thoughts in this short series on the recently finished Rugby World Cup in Japan.

In the final we were comprehensively overwhelmed, out-thought and out-muscled by South Africa, who were on a mission, in more ways than one. It was real rabbit in the headlights stuff from the lads in white. Nothing worked when a mere week ago everything worked. They were a shadow of their semi-final selves. That’s not form; it serves as a further reminder of how it’s all in the mind.

Losing Kyle Sinckler in the third minute was a hammer blow, since he usually does at least 50 minutes. The game is won from the set piece, and England never recovered from that. I kept waiting for someone to step up for England and take the game to the RSA, but it was not to be.

I’ve saved a small bit of sour grapes for the end of the final post in the series. I’ve always maintained that an England victory is worth more than anyone else’s victory because everyone hates us. Everyone supports whoever England are playing, and you see this sub-consciously manifested in the decisions from the 4 officials. I can’t remember the last time we got a break from a French referee. No decisions went our way in the final. Interestingly, no decisions went our way in the semi-final either, especially from the South African TMO Marius Jonker. We lost almost every 50-50 call. Nigel Owens had a stinker and the current best ref in the world Wayne Barnes was obviously barred from the final. It’s just that we were so good in the semi that the inequality wasn’t as obvious and it didn’t matter as much. I still remember the refereeing of the scrums in 2003 final…

On balance, a great tournament. Many congrats to South Africa, the first team to win the whole thing having lost a group game. I think England fans would have taken a silver it was offered to them in the summer.

Behaviourally, I’m still adjusting to what I’m supposed to do with my time on early weekend days…

Here’s part 2 of my short series of reflections on the most important sporting event in our household for a while.

I’m just about over England’s disappointment in the bitterly frustrating final. I had been nervous all week in the lead up to the show piece, and didn’t sleep well the night before. With the games being on in the morning, you’re basically waking up to get right into the event, so there’s precious little build-up to match time.

The main reasons for my nerves during the week were that I felt England had not yet been tested. They hadn’t had a tight game. They weren’t match tight. I thought they were a little undercooked having not played France, and I touched on the weather in my previous post, because that would have been a tight game. The All Blacks were almost perfect against Ireland, but also looked undercooked against England in the semi, having not played Italy in the weekend when Typhoon Hagibis was wreaking havoc. England, by contrast, were almost perfect against the All Black and came into the final supremely high on confidence but woefully short on ‘squeaky bum’ experience, to quote Sir Alex Ferguson.

By contrast, the South Africans had a tough group opener against the All Blacks where they were out of the blocks very quickly but were then outplayed. From there they grew with every match. They also had a date with destiny, national destiny, and they rode that wave beautifully on the 2nd November 2019.

The Rugby World Cup is still fresh – a bit raw, actually, if I’m honest, so I thought I would pen a few words on my impressions of it. Firstly, the host country and the coverage.

Like the vast majority of fans, I didn’t go. Too far, too busy a time of year to be jetting off. I might go to the Lions tour of South Africa in 2021, and the World Cup in France in 2023, but Japan was a bridge too far. So television it was then, which is all anyone seems to use it for these days: live sport and live news.

I thought on balance that it was a great tournament. Obviously the weather and the unseasonably late and ferocious typhoons were a major issue. I mean, 88 people lost their lives! If that had been in the UK there would have been much hand-wringing about whether the tournament should continue at all. But, it’s down to the stoicism and resilience of the Japanese that they picked themselves up and put on a great series of events.

I had the misfortune of watching the final on Irish television, in a holiday home with access only to the Irish channels. All the other matches I saw were on the UK ITV station. OK, so the ads are a maddening but necessary part of the business model to all TV stations but the BBC, but the commentary and the punditry on ITV was outstanding I thought. The pundits were very insightful, and the ads were at their most intrusive during half time when you were really looking for more time for the experts to break down the first half and tee up the second.

I loved the little vignettes of Japanese phrases and philosophy as the stations went to the commercial breaks. A very nice touch.

Sovereignty and nationality are interesting concepts where sport is concerned. National lines seem to blur and vary – at least in the islands of Britain and Ireland – depending on the particular sport.

When it comes to Brexit, the question of sporting nationality – UK, GB, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, to name but a few – could get a lot more complicated.

I’m sure sport was the last thing on people’s minds when they contemplated both the Brexit referendum and its aftermath.

I’m sure also that there was no plan for it. There was no ‘what if’ plan to withdraw from the Euro single currency when it was conceived and executed, so when a country does decide that it wants to abandon the Euro and reclaim its sovereign currency, it’ll make for some interesting fallout.

Similarly, it seems abundantly clear that there was no plan for Brexit either, judging by the scrambling around and hasty senior resignations from many of the architects of the shambles.

To brighten your day, here’s a well observed take on the difficulties of sporting nationalities in the current political climate from Foil Arms and Hog, somewhat in the style of CPG Grey. Enjoy.

Everyone needs a passion to keep them going through the cycles of work and the seasons of the year. I’m not talking here about loved ones, your family and friends. I’m talking about vices: music festivals, music, live theatre, hobbies, travel or holidays, that kind of thing. These are high points that can anchor a period in your life and stand out from the day-to-day stuff we do in order to afford to enjoy the high points.

For me it’s the catharsis of sport, both playing it and watching it. Participating in sport and attending or watching broadcasts of key sporting events define the time of the year for me. Let me walk you through a typical year of this sports fan, plucked out of my head without the need to check the calendar:

January – dark, miserable, poverty-stricken. Just in time, the Australian Open tennis hoves into view to save the one month that’s pretty much a waste of time. A foreign bonus comes to close the month down, in the form of the Superbowl. We in marketing can kid ourselves we’re working by watching the ads on youtube.

February – when you think Spring will never come, the 6 Nations Rugby championships comes to the rescue, closely followed by the business end of Champions League football.

March – more rugger and more soccer. US Sweet Sixteen and Final Four college hoops if you’re into that stuff. And is that the imperceptibly lengthening and warming days of Spring I detect?

April – the Masters golf at Augusta. The best major, though I’ve never been able to pin down why. Yes, and the snooker world championship too. Stick with it, it’s a drug.

May – the reward of a monster month. The death throes of the football and rugby leagues, the Champions League final, the Heineken Cup final and the best tennis major to attend – apparently; it always sneaks up on me before I’ve thought about summer trips – the glorious French Open. The lung-bursting, clay-drenched minute-long rallies.

June – Ah, the summer is here in earnest. The US Open golf tournament, the toughest major. Anyone for cricket? There’s usually a test series to follow, and the athletics Diamond League circuit winds up. The NBA finals remind me that I’m not ideally built for the hoops. Oh and Wimbledon, aka Wimbers, always the last week of June and first week of July. Happy days.

July – The Open, at the home of golf. Four halcyon days, even if the weather’s howling.

August – The US Open tennis. Hotter than the hinges of Hades, rather like the Australian Open. Supreme athleticism and the lungs of Miguel Indurain required. Sometimes they sneak the US PGA in as well during August, and so our cup over-floweth.

September – The baseball action gets down to the nitty gritty. Decent footie awaits as the Champions League swings into action with group matches to lift the mid-week blues.

October – The Autumn rugby internationals give us an annual reminder of why the southern hemisphere lads are better than us northern folks.

November – More rubgy, the final group matches in the Champions League, and the ATP tennis finals as we wind down for the holiday period.

December – Crimbo! Far too much on to think about sport, kind of, although between Christmas and New Year the good people from the darts world are good enough to give us two rival championships to help us finish off the turkey fricassee. We’re usually getting tonked at the cricket by the Aussies down under as well.

Bonus events in the summer can really make the summer: a world cup or an Olympics every second summer. The autumn is enhanced beyond measure by the biennial Ryder Cup. A Lions rugby tour or a Rugby World Cup can make the winter.

Boy! Anyone would think that there can’t be any time left for family and work. Work hard and play hard is the only way to get through it :-).

I always find it amazing when a small nation overturns a large nation at a major sporting event.  Sometimes you get the odd upset – of course – but for me the big nations should always win at big sporting events.

I was reminded of this fact recently when England lost a key football/soccer match against Uruguay, a country of some 3 million people. There have been some fantastic books which have debunked this theory, such as the superb ‘Brilliant Orange‘, but for me it boils down to a combination of three important factors:

– the sheer population numbers with access to the game

– the number and quality of facilities to be able to play

– the number of qualified coaches

With decent facilities and great coaches you can go a long way, but you also need people playing the sport in their masses so that the numbers of exceptional players percolate through from an immense group. Take a look at English footie and you see an enormous amount of players, plentiful decent facilities, but in the main very poor coaching. It’s ‘hoof it up to the big guy’ or ‘give it to the dribbler’ on pitches that are far too big, from a very early age. Kids grow up thinking that all you need to do is dribble past half a dozen players or shoot from 30 yards. They don’t know the basics and they are not adequately taught the technical fundamentals of the game.

I’m not sure of the actual numbers, but I have heard a statistic that there are 17,000 qualified coaches in Germany, and 900 in England. Here’s an article which suggests England has nearly 3,000, but Spain has nearly 24,000, Italy nearly 30,000 and Germany nearly 35,000. People blame the English premiership and the influx of foreign players, but that’s nonsense. Why would spend the earth for an overseas star if you were spoilt for choice domestically?

In 50 years’ time, China will probably be the nation that tops all the sports it chooses to compete seriously in. Fifty years ago it wasn’t playing table tennis, now they are comfortably the best nation, and the Chinese diaspora declare for many other countries, making up a huge proportion of the world’s top 100 players, men and women. They have some serious numbers, and a totalitarian government with the will and resources to capitalise on the immense political kudos of being the world’s best at something.

You might think there are exceptions to this, like New Zealand rugby’s All Blacks. It’s a population of nearly 4.5 million. But, rugby is the national sport, they invest heavily in coaches – their coaches hold great jobs across the rugby world – and they have decent facilities. They also have their pick of some of the best giants in the islands like Samoa, Fiji and Tonga to bolster their numbers. My celtic chums will hate me for it, but that’s why England are always there or thereabouts in rugby world cups. The largest playing population in the world and lots of dosh are a pretty powerful cocktail.

It always seems a shame that some true geniuses of sport happen to be from small nations. In football terms, think of Northern Ireland’s George Best, Wales’ Ryan Giggs and of course Liberia’s George Weah, a former world footballer of the year. They never experienced the playing on the global stage that their talent warranted. They never got to win the big global sporting event and be included in the pantheon of world’s greats in the way that Messrs Pele and Maradonna are.

I’m a huge fan of human endeavour in the ‘pure’ sports. Pure in the sense that they are just us against each other, without the use of equipment – sticks, racquets, machines. I’m talking about boxing, running, that sort of thing. ‘Chariots of Fire’ is my favourite film of all time.

In these sports, it’s down to our genetic inheritance, our training and our dedication. The track part of track and field athletics has always captivated me, along with millions of others. I guess that’s what makes the 100 metres the attraction it is, the ‘citius’ part of the ‘citius altius fortius’ Olympic motto.

Sir Roger Bannister breaking the 4-minute mile in 1954 is for me one of those man-on-the-moon moments. It was back in the day when these Renaissance men strove to be the best in the world while also playing a full-time trade.

I had the good fortune to meet Sir Roger in the mid-1980’s. I use ‘meet’ in the loosest sense.  I was captain of the university table tennis team for my final year of studies. The annual varsity games weekend hosted a bunch of sports between Oxford and Cambridge. Some of the sports were very prestigious, attracting ‘full blue’ status for those that represented their University at it. Other sports were not as prestigious, and even though you might have been the world’s best, all you could hope for was ‘half-blue’, thanks to the stuffy, sports caste system that existed. I sound bitter, and in fact I contradict myself, because the pure sports belonged in the full blue camp. Table tennis did not.

That year Sir Roger was the VIP on hand to present the trophies to each captain of the University that had won their sports varsity match. My team had squeaked through 6-4. All sports had a trophy. All sports, that is, except table tennis. As the trophies were handed out one at a time, I debated what to do. When the turn of table tennis came, I walked up, as Sir Rog looked to the table on his left for a trophy that did not exist. He looked back at me in a somewhat confused state, then smiled a big avuncular smile. We shook hands, made eye contact, and that was it.

It was good to brush shoulders – or hands – with true greatness for a brief moment.