Sunday, 23 December 2007

HD and Darts

We have just had Sky HD installed at home, and as I am at home for the festive period, I've been catching up on a lot of sport. While the live football is good quality, I've been watching other sports such as the PDC World Darts Championship, which has been a good event, and although I am delighted that Christmas is almost upon us, I am devastated that the darts is taking a break until Boxing Day.

Darts was always an enigma to me until the beginning of this year. I could not see the excitement in it. I knew how good Phil Taylor was and that he was World Champion, yet I did not know of nor understand the great schism of the darting world; the existence of two world championships, the BDO and the PDC editions. I read about Taylor's loss to van Barneveld yet could not figure out why such superlatives were being applied to something that was barely a sport. How wrong i was.

I was sitting in a bar back in Switzerland, the type that has Eurosport permanently tuned on the TV to the extent where the Eurosport logo has caused serious screen burn on the TV set, where I was watching a re-run of the BDO World Championship semi-final. I did not know the result, so I was enthralled by the spectacle and in awe of the skill. I watched the final the next day live and thought it all terribly exciting. I do not consider myself a darts expert, far from it, but I'm really beginning to see what all the fuss is about, and not only that, I cannot drag myself away from the TV and the PDC World Championship.

The Grand Slam of Darts was excellent entertainment, although I really wish they would play Planet Funk's "Chase The Sun" than The Fratelli's "Chelsea Dagger" like they do at the World Championships. Even Darts make the adverts fun, watching 3,000 people singing along to a piece of music during the breaks just adds to the entertainment. Darts seems a uniquely British phenomenon. How can people get so excited about this and how can theycreate a tournament with high standards of professionalism involving a pub game? While the Dutch are now not only the pretenders to the crown, but a major darting superpower, the whole thing feels British.

Darts is a sport, and a very skillful one at that. It has a legion of loyal fans, and is certainly far more entertaining than some other events. It should not be looked down upon by snobs who would rather watch the Boat Race or Dressage, but embraced as a sporting and cultural event. Now that I've added Darts to my sporting portfolio, perhaps the time is right to try and understand another sport that has also remained boring to me: Snooker. Although it would help if they put it in HD.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

2007 Varsity Match: Oxford 16 - 22 Cambridge

On the 6th December, I went to Twickenham for the first time to watch the 2007 Varsity Match. I'm not going to lie or be patronising, but I couldn't care less who won. To me this was just an archaic knees-up for old boys of our country's two great universities. The match was a good one, filled with drama and excitement, and as I was there at the invitation of a Cambridge friend, I was cheering on the light blues.

Cambridge won 22-16, and to be honest were the best team on the day. Now a lot of fuss is made about the Boat Race, but to be honest I will only watch rowing if it's Great Britain rowing, not these two universities. But this, was something everyone can watch and enjoy. Yes it's another privilege and an ego boost that these two universities enjoy, but at the end of the day it's good fun and it's a chance for these players to play at the home of English rugby.

Twickenham on the other hand, was not as good as I had imagined it. The train station was cramped and busy, which is to be expected as this is basically a small town with a huge 80,000 capacity stadium in it. I was sitting in the North Stand, which was not very modern and glamourous, but functional. To be honest, I never got the same feeling I did the first time ~I visited Old Trafford or the old Wembley. It was probably because the match was not a full capacity game, but it seemed to lack atmosphere, and the rain didn't help either. I will probably have to come back for an England game in the sunshine to see what the magic is all about.

It was a good day though, despite the weather and transport arrangements consipiring to ruin it. There are photos on the SvenSport Flickr site, however my camera decided to stop working before I got into the ground, so there are some that are of poor quality.

Varsity Match Photos

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Euro 2008: The Failure

The last time I posted, I spoke of the possbility of a British sporting renaissance. Since I uttered those famous last words, I will never dare of making such a suggestion for a very long time. In the time that has passed between entries, England bravely lost the Rugby World Cup final, Lewis Hamilton failed to win the Formula One World Championship by a single point, Scotland and Northern Ireland valiantly punched above their own weight to narrowly miss out on Euro 2008 qualification. These are achievements, but England's failure to reach Euro 2008 is just that, a failure.

A nation blessed with the richest league in the world and the home of the sport's heritage has failed to qualify for a major tournament for the first time since USA '94. True Steve McClaren had horrendous luck with injuries, but to use this as an excuse would simply be a facade. England got their "get out of jail free" card when Israel beat Russia, but they failed to qualify. McClaren's poor decisions continued to the last stand. He wanted to be popular and dropped Beckham, who along with Peter Crouch was England's best player against Croatia in that ill-fated qualifier. McClaren executed a poor piece of man-management when he dropped Paul Robinson for Scott Carson, who succumbed to the pressure in his first competitive start for England in their biggest match since the 2006 World Cup Quarter-Final. But McClaren's failure is history and he will go down as England's worst manager in England's.

The search for his successor has begun and former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho is the fan's, and SvenSport's favourite. He has a proven track record and would be able to overhaul the national side that is a serious state of disarray. Italian coach Fabio Capello has great pedigree and is the only big name to throw his hat into the ring so far, but he does not speak English, which could be a hinderance. Harry Redknapp is the "outstanding" English candiate, but he feels his chances have been ruined by his arrest as part of the corruption in football investigation. England have a talented pool of players, but that pool is decreasing and the current group don't seem to able to gel. Whether the manager is Mourinho, Capello, Redknapp or someone else, they have a task on their hands. They have to take England to South Africa 2010 and restore some pride to English football.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

A British Sporting Renaissance?

Last year the sheer mediocrity of British sport was highlighted by the BBC Sport Personality of the Year programme. What should usually be a celebration and reflection of the year's sporting achievements was an unwelcome reminder of the lack of achievement in 2006. But one year on, we are on the eve of perhaps the greatest British sporting year for some time.

Indeed, perhaps it was apt that Zara Phillips won the accolade and follow in the footsteps of her mother to win the award. 2006 had been a relatively good year for certain sports; Beth Tweddle's world title springs to mind as well as Nicole Cooke's achievements in cycling. But with no disrespect to any of the other nominees, in a year in which the World Cup was held, to have a cricketer who had played a handful of games for England in a relatively unsuccesful side and a Formula One driver, who's talent is undoubted, who won his first race in his seventh F1 campaign as nominees for the award spoke volumes about the poor year for British sport.

Ten months on from the ceremony, England are on the brink of winning a second consecutive Rugby World Cup and Lewis Hamilton is on the verge of becoming the first rookie ever to win the Formula One world championship. This is in addition to Scotland beating some of the finest sides in Europe en route to qualification to the European Championships in Austria and Switzerland next summer. England's qualification campaign is back on track and Northern Ireland were stunning some of the bigger nations in European football in theirs.

Is Britain experiencing a sporting renaissance or is this just typical British exaggeration? It is a bit of both to be honest. Next weekend will determine whether or not it has been a successful year. The Brazillain Grand Prix on Sunday and the World Cup final on Saturday will determine the final destinations of both the F1 Drivers World Campionship and the Rugby World Cup respectively. If both are achieved it will have been a vintage year, if one is achieved it will have been successful and if none, it was still better than 2006. Indeed, the British isles could also have two representives at a major football championship since 2002 if Scotland manage to negotiate the "Group of Death" after beating France home and away as well as World Cup quarter-finalists Ukraine, although one could argue that they are in a better position than England at the moment.

However one must remember that England were seen as no-hopers before their sensational victory over Australia last Saturday and Hamilton the supposed understudy to double World Champion in the McLaren this season. While England's triumph is to be celebrated, Wales and Ireland failed to get past the group stage of the Rugby World Cup and the Republic of Ireland and Wales never got their qualifying campaigns going for Euro 2008. We must remember that nothing has been achieved yet and that next weekend will be an unbelievable double-header of world class sport. One thing's for sure, whether Lewis Hamilton, Jonny Wilkinson or James McFadden (The scottish choice probably) win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2007, it will have been deserved

Monday, 10 September 2007

Twenty20: The Way Forward

Tomorrow, the inaugural Twenty20 World Championship in South Africa begins. The format that was pioneered by the ECB has taken the world of cricket by storm since its inception in 2003. Despite the growing popularity of the shorter game, traditionalists have remained skeptical and some countries have refused to embrace Twenty20. This version of the game is the way forward for cricket to ensure it's long-term future and to attract young followers to the game.

The Twenty20 format was touted around as a method of gaining extra revenue for County Cricket sides. The fast-paced game would allow for spectacular shots and a result within a short period of time. Counties often scheduled their Twenty20 matches in their out grounds, but following the high attendances and public reception of the format, clubs held their games at their main venues in order to maximize profit. Young children were entranced by the spectacle. The county game is structured so that the clubs can produce good, young cricketers for the England team. While England test matches and One-Day Internationals are well attended, County Championship matches and Limited-overs games are not. Teams that do not have an England Test venue often fail to bring in as much revenue as those that do, and in order for these clubs to continue producing England players, they need money.

One only has to look at tonight's match between the Middlesex Crusaders and the Derbyshire Phantoms. In the first flood-lit match at Lords, the attendance was not quite what you would call a "full-house". In order for County Cricket to remain financially viable, Twenty20 matches must be on the agenda, even if that means scrapping one of the two 40-over tournament in the season. There are not enough England games to go around for teams to all have an international venue.

On the international stage, the scene is set for Twenty20 to become the predominant format of the limited overs game. The two last Cricket World Cups have been uninspiring to say the least. They have been marred by political controversies and poor organisation, not to mention the embarrassment of the Jamaican police following the death of Bob Woolmer. The games were rarely entertaining and the tournaments have dragged on for far too long. The promises of a West Indian carnival of cricket failed to materialise in the last edition of the tournament. The Twenty20 World Championship will last around two weeks and will be filled with match-ups, that if they stay faithful to the Twenty20 cup, that will go right down to the wire.

Twenty20 is a fantastic format that could bring cricket the masses. Indeed it could give county cricket a steady stream of revenue to allow it to continue producing players for the England team and allow international cricket to allow itself to have an exciting spectacle comparable to other sport's world championships.

Monday, 27 August 2007

England 1-2 Germany: The Aftermath

Once again, England failed to impress in another friendly. The accusations that this was "meaningless" are perhaps unfounded; international managers do have to test their squads before their crucial Euro 2008 qualifiers, but England were poor against a second-string German side. For the first twenty minutes, England played rather well and capped it off with a goal from Frank Lampard that he hopes will silence his critics. After that, England were unimpressive and rarely looked like converting the chances they created. Paul Robinson took the headlines for his mistake, which was not really the "howler" that was widely reported. It was a mistake, but the clamour to have the Spurs 'keeper replaced has been coming. The match proved that issues such as goalkeeper selection, Beckham's workload and forward options must be resolved before England face Israel and Russia.

Robinson came in for David James during the 2006 World Cup Qualifying campaign following mistakes made by the latter against Austria and has held the place since. James has since moved to Portsmouth, after being dropped from the England squad by McClaren when he took charge after the World Cup. Impressive form has seen James recalled to the squad and despite an unspectacular half in the goal at Wembley on Wednesday, has every chance of playing in the upcoming qualifiers. Despite looking slightly unconvincing against Chelsea at the weekend, he is perhaps the best choice in the short-term as the players need to have confidence in their goalkeeper. With Ben Foster injured and Scott Carson, while impressive in the U-21 European Championships is inexperienced, James is the only viable option for McClaren, should he dispense with Robinson.

Another talking point was David Beckham's inclusion following his trans-atlantic flight from Los Angeles. McClaren, now seemingly reliant on a player that he inexplicably dropped once appointed England manager, allowed him to play the full 90 minutes. Beckham is still nursing the ankle injury that has hampered his start to life in the MLS and one would have thought that in the interests of everyone he should have stayed in the USA to allow him to recover for Galaxy and for England. Even more absurdly, he played in the "Superclassico" against Chivas, just thirty hours after playing for England on a different continent. Indeed the players representatives and Alexi Lalas will have to handle the situation differently next time Beckham plays for England.

Jermain Defoe was included in the squad despite not being in Tottenham's first team plans, and his hapless start to the season continued as Peter Crouch, who is suspended for England's next match, and winger Kieron Dyer were brought on ahead of him. Michael Owen played at Wembley and although his positioning was usually quite good, his lack of match fitness was evident as he missed chances that a fully fit Owen would have put away. Owen is getting there, but with Wayne Rooney injured and Crouch suspended, England's options up front look limited, which makes the selection of Dyer over Defoe as a substitute all the more baffling.

There were a few positives to take from the game, and although we may not all share Steve McClaren's optimism, the match wasn't a complete waste of time. Micah Richards was impressive once again, this time at right-back and has managed to continue his good start to the season. A fully fit Joe Cole is certainly an asset to England and didn't look out of place. Michael Owen needs games, and he managed to get involved at Wembley. Problems are still there for McClaren and the Brave New England we were seeing at the start of his reign last summer could not seem further away as he brings back players such as James and Beckham that he dropped in order to rescue a Euro 2008 qualifying campaign in danger of falling short.