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Archive for April, 2009

Leading by bad example

So a millionaire soccer player thinks it’s all right to incite opposing fans because, in his warped mind, they deserve as good as they give.

John Terry, the Chelsea captain, said that he and Frank Lampard made a beeline for the West Ham fans, no angels to be sure, after the winning goal at Upton Park on Saturday.

“When we scored, I went running over with Lamps and we gave them a bit back,” he said. There’s nothing wrong with that. If they can give it, they can take it, and if I can take it I can give it. That’s the way it’s got to be.”

The fact Terry has freely admitted that he and Lampard were intent on riling opposition supporters in a tit-for-tat exchange, is grossly puerile.

Terry conveniently forgets that if it wasn’t for the West Ham Academy (which took him and Lampard in as teenagers), he would be living a life less lavish. A life of street thuggery, gambling addiction, and serial philandering. Sound familiar?

As it happens, Terry’s string of misdemeanours is lengthy. In the aftermath of September 11, he and three Chelsea team-mates (including Lampard) were accused of drunkenly mocking American tourists at Heathrow, stripping naked, laughing and vomiting.

The quartet was fined £130,000 by the club as a result. Petty cash when weighed against Terry’s weekly salary of £100,000-plus.

That same year, he was involved in an altercation with a nightclub bouncer, arrested, spent a night in custody, and was subsequently cleared of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, unlawful wounding, possessing a bottle as an offensive weapon and affray.

The cause of the doorman’s extensive facial injuries remains a mystery.

In 2004, Terry’s passion for gambling emerged. He was reportedly one of three Chelsea players said to have wagered £40,000 a week between them on horses and greyhounds.

And this is the man remember, who is a role model for English yoof as the captain of his country’s football team.

The very same role model who bawled like an infant on missing the penalty which cost Chelsea the 2008 Champions League title.

Cue the John Teary headlines.

The most telling aspect of that pathetic incident was not the fact that a bully found it hard to deal with comeuppance.

No, it was the fact that Terry, the captain, and alleged leader of men, was too caught up in his own self grief to spare a thought for the rest of his crestfallen team-mates. Very few of whom, incidentally, offered him a shoulder in his hour of need.

Remember this was the same John Terry who had earlier in the match, emptied the contents of his nostrils onto an opponent’s shirt.

And just how much sympathy do you suppose the nation’s referees, so often the object of his bile, had for him on that night of abject misery in Moscow?

Not much I’ll wager.

But I’m not a betting man.

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Dirty deeds

The egofest that is the America’s Cup seems destined to return to it’s natural habitat – the courtroom – after yet another breakdown in negotiations in Geneva today.

The sticking point, if one was needed, was holder Alinghi’s desire for a one-on-one Deed of Gift multihull match race and BMW Oracle’s preference for a multi-challenger monohull affair.

No surprises there then.

The two combatants, and their busloads of lawyers, will convene in two weeks’ time to, er, discuss a Deed of Gift match.

The bickering and bad blood between the two will centre on the format and timing – February or May 2010 – and the arguments are unlikely to be fully settled in a hurry.

No doubt, there will be a gaggle of court reporters in attendance to bring us the latest instalment of this tedium. You have to feel for all those yachting correspondents who have been out of work since 2007.

Sailing anyone?

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Hidden beneath the elation of a maiden victory for Red Bull in China is the inescapable reality that Ferrari is on a slide which may not be arrested. Not this season anyway.

Three races, no points. The team’s worst start to a Formula One season for 28 years.

Botched strategies in qualifying and the race in Melbourne leading to two DNFs, 9th and 14th in Malaysia, 10th and another DNF in China. Those stats do not make pleasant reading.

An underperforming car, a KERS system that neither driver has faith in, a crisis meeting and a knee-jerk re-organisation that has seen their key race strategist for the past few seasons, Luca Baldisseri, despatched to a factory role.

Should we have seen it coming? Well, OK, Felipe Massa was pipped for the title in 2008 but distracting FIA skirmishes and internal politics for McLaren’s hierarchy and second-year rookie errors by Lewis Hamilton kept Massa in the hunt longer than he had a right to be.

As for Kimi Raikonen, the Finn is undeniably quick, but what of his care factor? As early as the third race of a new season he has written off the team’s championship chances.

Losing Michael Schumacher, Jean Todt, Brawn and Rory Byrne in quick succession has done Ferrari no favours. Remember also that before the quartet arrived at Maranello, Ferrari’s championship drought spanned 16 and 21 years for constructor and driver respectively.

No wonder the Ferrari lawyer representing the team at last week’s court ruling on diffusers accused Brawn, a former figlio preferito, of arrogance. The favourite son is having the last laugh as head of his eponymous team.

It begs the question, can Ferrari be left to its own devices? Was the string of success throughout the late 90s and into the new millennium over reliant on Germans, Frenchmen, Brits and South Africans taking the reins?

The current overall standings has Ferrari level-pegging in the cheap seats with Force India on 0 points. In the lounge suites, Brawn has 36.

With chapters being added to the Brawn GP fairytale, Red Bull and Toyota resurgent, McLaren sure to improve along with Williams and Renault, has the prancing horse been put out to pasture for another prolonged spell?

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Poisoned pens poised

So Andy Murray’s recent run of tournament success and subsequent rise up the rankings to world No 4 hit the buffers in Monte Carlo today against Rafael Nadal.

A predictable outcome given the Spaniard’s prowess on the blood red clay.

For Murray, there are bigger challenges to come. Wimbledon fortnight in a few months’ time being one. The sternest of those tests at SW19 will not necessarily be from the other side of the net.

During that most quintessential of English occasions, the Scot will be variously labelled surly, petulant, cocky and scruffy by his many detractors – most of them carrying loaded questions, notebooks and pens.

Murray’s targeting by the Fourth Estate has its roots in a misconstrued comment he made during a press conference at the 2006 event. The soccer World Cup was on at the time and when asked by a tabloid journalist who he would be supporting (Scotland had not qualified), he replied “anyone but England”.

Cue outrage. Cue the decimation of acres of South American rainforests to facilitate the newsprint needed to carry the damnation.

When the dust had settled on the post-mortem into his remark, it was discovered that it was uttered in the company of Tim Henman, and delivered with tongue firmly embedded in cheek tissue. Never let the facts and all that …

Mo matter. Murray had dared to diss the England soccer team on yet another of those countless occasions when the whole country believed that “England had their best chance of lifting the World Cup since 1966”. Cue tedious re-runs of the ’66 video.

Needless to say, the overpaid, over-inflated, underskilled lads of St George got stuffed by Johnny Foreigner. Again.

As for the aforementioned labels, we have been here before. John McEnroe did petulance long before Murray and Andre Agassi brought grunge to tennis well ahead of its time on the high street. And, like Murray, they could both play a bit.

So, just as sure as mile-long queues forming days before the All England Club gates swing open to allow thousands of stockbroker belt housewives to feast on over-priced strawberries and cream, Fleet Street will be lying in wait for Murray again this year.

The housewives will want to call him one of their own. British and proud of it. The scribblers, dispatched from news desks and some armed with shovels, will call him names and laud him in equal measure.

If he marches stoically passed a qualifier, a couple of has-beens and a plucky Russian wannabe and reaches the dizzying heights of the semis, he will be celebrated as a Great Brit and the new Tim.

If he stumbles one match hence, those same tennis-pundits-for-hire will remind us that his birthplace is Dunblane.

Twas ever thus.

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Friday, 17 April 2009, 1630 GMT

Having led the stampede to Fernando de Norohna, and been first to dip its nose in the scoring trough, Telefonica Blue has bolted. Right now, wild horses won’t stop Bouwe Bekking and his men. But the Doldrums might.

The rest of the herd has spread-eagled across the course. We have one helluva boat race on our hands out in the Atlantic with just 14 miles splitting second to sixth place on the Leg 6 leaderboard.

At Norohna, heavy squalls and rain reduced visibility, and with winds dropping to just three knots, progress was brought to a standstill. In Telefonica’s wake, a gripping drama was played out between Delta Lloyd, PUMA and Telefonica Black for third place. More of that later.

For Bekking, being first to the gate was a “bloody great result”. The four points, helps bridge the gap to Ericsson 4 and draws Telefonica Blue to within half a point of PUMA, second in the overall standings. Those points were hard-earned.

“We all worked very hard for this result,” Bekking said. “You know in your heart that you can do it, but sometimes you just don’t have everything in your own hands.

“I haven’t had much sleep in the last 24 hours, as we got hammered by big squalls, with breeze varying from 30 to 3 knots which meant several sail changes. Most of the guys got pulled out of their bunks several times when soundly asleep.

“Not too bad having four more points in the bag for the Blues. Unfortunately the race leaders (Ericsson 4) had another solid second. But a gain is a gain and it gives us a morale boost, knowing that we can beat them. As long we keep the pressure on them, their wheels might come off at some stage.”

Having put daylight between themselves and the rest, Telefonica Blue’s objective as it heads north into increasingly unstable conditions, says Simon Fisher, is to be first through the Doldrums and into the north-east trades and the North Atlantic.

Therein lies another opportunity to build on the advantage. “We have the bit firmly between our teeth,” Fisher said. “So far so good, but as ever, there is no time to relax.”

There has been little relaxation on Delta Lloyd, particularly with PUMA mounting a spirited rearguard on the approach to the scoring gate where the black cat caught Telefonica Black and Delta Lloyd napping. Telefonica Black conceded fourth place. Luckily, for Delta Lloyd, the wake-up call came in time to fend off PUMA’s assault on third place.

The battle between the pair was epic. Navigator Wouter Verbraak described the vital moments as they unfolded. Here’s an extract.

“1.3 nautical miles to the scoring gate and our main battle for third place reaches its climax,” he wrote. “Our battle has been with Telefonica Black, but at the last moment PUMA has gone around the outside of a big light patch under a squall and has made huge gains.

‘PUMA is coming to us on starboard tack. Standby. Tack. Three more lengths’.

“The wind has gone left too much for us and PUMA is closing in fast. It is not clear whether we will cross her …

‘Tacking! 0.2 nautical miles to the scoring gate, this is the course. PUMA now five boatlengths behind us’.

“Now again PUMA is closing in on us, but it is not far to go …

‘Congratulations, we have just crossed the scoring gate in third’.”

Verbraak said the relief on board was palpable, the high fives joyous, after an intense 18 hours in which the crew of Delta Lloyd withstood the challenges of PUMA and Telefonica Black while daring to snap at the heels of Ericsson 4.

As for PUMA’s take on the battle of Noronha, skipper Ken Read said: “Getting ahead, digging a hole, battling back, that sums up our little jaunt to the scoring gate. We will take a fourth as it could have been much worse.

In a reference to the passing move on Telefonica Black, he added: ”Any time you sail around a boat that was 10 miles ahead of you with 50 miles to go – good fortune is looking down upon you.

“And we nearly grabbed a third at the gate as well, getting through the imaginary line at Fernando de Noronha about five-boat lengths behind Delta Lloyd. In fact they had to come up to our line and tack on us to prevent us from getting there ahead of them. All after over a thousand miles of sailing. Amazing.”

It is worth remembering that Delta Lloyd was entering those light-air conflicts against PUMA and Telefonica Black with outdated weaponry. Delta Lloyd, formerly ABN AMRO ONE, is a first generation Volvo Open 70 not renowned for its firepower once the wind speed drops below 12 knots.

“Today we are really seeing the difference in boat speed between our first generation boat and her younger sisters,” Verbraak admitted. “No problem, it just means we will have to work harder and smarter.

“After the last 24 hours we are fully done with clouds, but I am afraid I will have to tell the boys we are in for another 24 hours of them. How to tell them that? At least everybody has gotten some sleep again, and we are boasted by the good result. What a fantastic race this is.”

The next challenges for the fleet will be the initiation of those have not before crossed the Equator, followed by a short, but sluggish passage through the Doldrums and out into the north-east trades.

By the 16:00 GMT Position Report, Telefonica Blue’s lead stood at 70 miles over Ericsson 4, positioned to the west. Occupying the middle lane are Ericsson 3 (+79) and Telefonica Black (+82), third and fourth respectively. PUMA (+83) and Delta Lloyd (+84) continue to lock horns in the east while Green Dragon, further east, is at +91 and finally making up ground.

The Dragon’s skipper Ian Walker reports that spirits are up now that they scent the pack ahead. “We are sailing well and over the last 24 hours we have taken lots of miles out of the pack,” he said.

“We need to steal as many miles as we can in the Doldrums before we get into the NE trades and power reaching conditions again. We have 3,600 miles between us and Boston to find another break.”

The final word on Delta Lloyd goes to PUMA Media Crew Member Rick Deppe. He said: “The Delta Lloyd team came to the race very late and they’ve had their fair share of problems, it’s great to see them doing well (hopefully not too well for too much longer) and also a fantastic demonstration of a measurement rule working well.

“Hopefully a good omen for the next event, it would be nice to see a few of this year’s boats back out there for another crack at it.” Yes it would Rick.

The subject of the 2011-12 race was touched on here yesterday, after a flood of opinions from the class of 2008-09. One of the topics tackled, by Bouwe Bekking, was the ratio of points for offshore legs versus in-port racing.

Race Director Jack Lloyd was listening, and today he has responded. “We are looking into the whole make up of scoring and penalties. Under the present points’ system, there seems to be an abnormal weighting to the in-port race,” he said.

“The difficulty is to find a balance between the length of the leg and applying a “worth” in points. I think the answer lies in making more points available to be won on the legs, without adding more scoring waypoints.”

Point taken Jack.

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The decision by the FIA to rule in favour of double-decker diffusers at the International Court Of Appeal in Paris today, saves Formula One from yet another prolonged spat it can ill-afford.

With a few chapters left to be written in the Liegate scandal and just when the sport finally has a feel good story to tell – Brawn GP’s rise from the ashes – the ICA’s verdict comes as a blessed relief.

The decision was a no-brainer considering stewards at the first two races of the 2009 season had given the radical diffusers their blessing.

The fact that barbs were traded between Ross Brawn and Ferrari’s legal eagles across the benches of the courtroom illustrated the enormity of the case and the subsequent repercussions of the decision for the haves – Brawn GP, Toyota, Williams – and the have-nots.

Sullying proceedings by hurling personal insults at Brawn served only to underline Ferrari’s predicament following performance lags and strategic gaffes in Melbourne and Malaysia. Ferrari QC Nigel Tozzi’s description of Brawn as “a person of supreme arrogance” was classically pot-kettle.

In response, Brawn criticised Ferrari design consultant Rory Bryne. Clearly, Ferrari red blood no longer courses through Big Ross’s veins.

So what now? Well, expect the gang of three to maintain a downforce advantage and expect the midnight oil to be burning in wind tunnels and workshops at the other seven teams over the next few weeks/months.

Red Bull’s Adrian Newey has cancelled his flight to Shanghai for this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix and will remain at the factory working on a major tweak for the rear end of the RB5.

Meanwhile, Ferrari’s Stefano Domenicali said the decision means they will be forced to “intervene on fundamental areas of the car’s design … and that will take time and money.”

Money, they have. Time, they

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The BBC’s coverage of The Masters is a constant source of ammunition for Funny Peculiar.

The anchor (if that’s the right word), is Gary Lineker, former professional soccer player turned Match Of The Day host, who has made an awkward transition to golf. He is the new breed in the Beeb’s grand plan to dumb down sports coverage via the ‘celebrity presenter’ route.

Representing the establishment is the lead commentator, Peter Alliss, the self-styled Voice of Golf.

Alliss, a 27-year career professional, three-time British PGA champion and eight-time Ryder Cup representative, knows his onions when it comes to golf.

Lineker, capped 80 times by England, a four-handicap recreational golfer, knows his balsamic vinegar and caramelised onions, when it comes to Walker’s crisps.

Lineker’s presentational style is puerile, ill-informed, embarrassing. And that was on Match of The Day. In the gentlemanly world of golf coverage, his flippancy is as welcome as a stray hair in a packet of builder’s breakfast. Yes there is such a flavour.

Fronting crisps commercials is one thing, fronting coverage of a major golf tournament quite another.

Lineker is treated with utter disdain, particularly by Alliss. Often. He is the naughty schoolboy to Alliss’s head of faculty.

What does Alliss make of a refugee from the oafish pursuit of soccer spike-marking his hallowed turf? Not much by all accounts.

Critiquing Linkeker’s Master’s debut in Golf International in 2006, he wrote … “If I was a golf fan sitting at home looking forward to tuning into the Masters I would have given him (Lineker) a three or a four,” Alliss said, before adding … “But you see that’s unfair. Gary is very good at reading the autocue.”

Ouch. Three-irons at 10 paces.

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