Tour De Yorkshire: Was it worth the hype?

As the second stage of the inaugural Tour de Yorkshire made its way through York, there was a palpable sense that the event could never live up to the Tour de France’s visit in 2014.

Last July, the city was alive and a truly international spectacle, with tourists coming to York from all over Europe and beyond. The streets were filled with people standing four to five deep, even on the outskirts of town, two hours before the race passed through.

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Scenes in the centre of York before the Tour de Yorkshire

As with 2014, there was a sense of occasion around the city, but prior to the race this year there was not as much advertisement in the same places as the Grand Départ.

The Tour de Yorkshire felt like an altogether more civilised affair. There were still large crowds in the city centre, but the ‘rolling roadblocks’ put in place made the event have a much more temporary feel to it.

This sentiment was echoed by Jack Saunders, a shop assistant in York city centre, who said that “the town is definitely busier than usual, but it is nothing compared to last year. This just feels quieter.”

Festival on the outskirts of York prior to the 2014 Tour de France
Festival on the outskirts of York prior to the 2014 Tour de France

Having been to both events, it was plain to see that the public were not as attached to the Yorkshire Tour, especially as it was the inaugural running of the race, so there would be no previous barometer as to how the race would go.

As a spectacle, the race was very much on a level with the Tour de France, with the cyclists going at blistering speed around York and the excitement of the crowd adding to it.

Visibly smaller crowds in 2015 for the Tour de Yorkshire
Visibly smaller crowds in 2015 for the Tour de Yorkshire

Only time will tell if the Tour de Yorkshire has staying power and room for growth, but if they continue to attract big names such as Sir Bradley Wiggins and Marcel Kittel, there is no reason why the event cannot become a focal point in the cycling calendar.

 

Where does Raheem Sterling’s future lie?

Talks over Liverpool starlet Raheem Sterling’s proposed new contract have been stalled until the end of the season, amid rumours of several clubs expressing interest in the England international.

Sterling’s representative has made it clear that Sterling will resume talks in the summer, with his current deal expiring in 2017, and manager Brendan Rodgers said “I am sure (the situation) will be resolved and the concentration for Raheem is now on his football”.

Reds manager Brendan Rodgers insists that the 20 year-old’s best option is to stay with the Anfield club, as he believes Sterling will benefit most from being first-choice in the Liverpool set-up.

Real Madrid and Chelsea have been the clubs heaviest linked with Sterling, but assuming he does leave Liverpool, the question remains as to whether he would make an impact at either club.

Chelsea would appear to be an ‘easier’ team for Sterling to break into, with his versatility opening him up to a variety of roles, but his biggest success has arguably come in the ‘number 10’ role behind the striker, a position currently occupied by Oscar at the Blues.

It is plausible that Sterling could displace Oscar in the Chelsea team, or possibly work alongside him, but Chelsea did bring in winger Juan Cuadrado from Fiorentina as competition for Willian on the wing. If Oscar remains the preferred choice, it would be difficult to see Sterling surpassing Willian, Eden Hazard and Cuadrado to start at Stamford Bridge.

It is a similar story for Real Madrid, with the Spanish giants opting for a 4-3-3 system that would mean Sterling having to force his way past one of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale or Karim Benzema in the pecking order to be played in his preferred attacking role, which at this time does not seem likely, barring a spectacular summer transfer for any of those players.

Rodgers also said in February that Sterling had received an ‘incredible’ offer, but warned that he would not be paid “too much too young”. It is arguable that Sterling’s worth to Liverpool is greater than the rumoured £90,000 per week offer he has been given, especially as other clubs could offer him more.

While staying at Liverpool may not be the most financially profitable option for Sterling, it may well be the best choice to further his career as he moves into his peak years.

A (Not Very) Brief History of 2013, Before Everyone Else Attempts One…

After the dizzy heights of national pride experienced in 2012, you would be forgiven for thinking that 2013 would be a bit of a let down. Like a hangover, if you will. If we’re honest, things didn’t start too well as it was discovered that Iceland had been feeding us horse instead of beef in their lasagne dishes and the like. Easy mistake to make, obviously, both cows and horses have four legs, and are relatively large, so why not? By that logic, don’t be surprised if you see a Rhino Moussaka pop up as a ready meal some time soon…

The state of affairs didn’t improve when the goings on of some of Britain’s most famous TV faces from the 1970s were found to have involved a large quantity of utterly deplorable child sex offences. I’m sure the world has heard enough of Jimmy Savile’s name over the course of this year, but nothing ruins a reputation more than being a serial sex offender. It’s all well and good when you’re dead, it’s almost like you think you got away with it… but the world will always know now.

While I’m on the subject of certain dodgy individuals in positions of power, the Catholic Church was forced into choosing a new Pope after the bizarre resignation of Pope Benedict XVI in February. Unless I misread somewhere, the job of the Pope is held until you’re dead. A bit like paying taxes or sitting in front of the television waiting for a weather report to be wrong, just so you can write in and complain. (If there’s anyone out there that actually does that, PLEASE don’t bother…)

It seemed that the only good news in Britain came from sport. The British and Irish Lions rugby team actually beat Australia over the course of three matches, and a (currently) British man ACTUALLY won Wimbledon. Even the English cricket team won the Ashes, but then lost it again. We can gloss over that for now…

In other news, a baby that is more powerful than any single one of us (despite the fact that he is barely six months old as I write) was born. It’s not as if you couldn’t have heard about little baby George, because his name was all over the place. The media took it upon themselves to speculate about every last detail, and the sheer boredom that can come with six hours of broadcasting with no real news took its toll on journalists, as well as anyone that would’ve bothered to have sat through the running commentary of poor old Kate’s labour. To any women reading this, imagine if you were going through childbirth and there were copious amounts of cameras outside the hospital trying to predict what was happening at every given moment. Madness.

In the rest of the world, Robert Mugabe “won” the Zimbabwean election, while Kim Jong-Un got his uncle executed in an attempt to prove his worth on the world stage. Vladimir Putin was caught on camera topless for no apparent reason yet again, Barack Obama has been pretty quiet, and Boris Johnson continues to live in his own little world. As per usual, then. 

Somehow, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) made such strong gains in local elections this year that they were the third largest political party existing at that point. Until they were uncovered as racists, sexists, homophobes etc… but they still remain more popular than Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats. Which isn’t all that hard, but still.

In other news, Miley Cyrus thought it would be a good idea to use a foam finger in the complete wrong way and appear naked in a music video in order to get attention. A song raising an important issue in nature became very popular, making people think about what a fox might say. To this day, no one knows. A woman threw eggs at Simon Cowell and the X Factor song got to Christmas Number 1. Shock, horror etc…

One of the greatest figures in world history to have ever lived died in December as well. Even the great Nelson Mandela couldn’t have everything his own way at his own memorial service when a fake sign language interpreter managed to get through every bit of security going to pretend to know how to sign.

In short, then, 2013 hasn’t been all that great for the world. But the one solace that we can take from this is that Justin Bieber has said he’s retiring. If that isn’t something to be joyous about, I don’t know what is. Happy 2014, everyone.

A Little Tribute to the “Little Master”

Select sportsmen and women over time have been held in the regard as “The Greatest of their Generation”, even fewer can be seen as “The Greatest of all time”, but the best person to ever play a sport is a position that is much debated, and no one is ever universally in agreement as to who that person is. But today saw the curtain drawn on the career of a cricketer that can certainly be put into the ever-continuing “Greatest of all time” debate.

332 international matches, 17,189 runs and 50 centuries. Well, double those statistics and you’ll get the career numbers of the “Little Master” himself, Sachin Tendulkar. People have run out of superlatives to describe Tendulkar’s career. The number of records that he has amassed is, quite simply, staggering by anyone’s standards:

  • 15,921 Test Match runs, making him the all-time top scorer
  • 200 Test Match appearances, leading the all-time list
  • 51 Test Match 100’s
  • 18,426 One-Day International (ODI) runs, all-time top scorer
  • 463 ODI appearances, an all-time high
  • 49 ODI 100’s
  • 62 ODI Man of the Match Awards, with 15 Man of the Series Awards, he leads both of those lists
  • Played at a record 90 different venues
  • The only player to take more than 150 wickets and score more than 15,000 runs in One-Day Internationals
  • Scored 2,560 runs at the Cricket World Cup, an all-time high, at an average of 56.95
  • Has played with and against 989 International Cricketers (141 Indian, 848 opponents)

(Statistics courtesy of indiatimes.com)

Australia legend Shane Warne called Tendulkar “The greatest player I’ve played against”, a sentiment that has been echoed by West Indies hero Brian Lara. Praise doesn’t come much higher in the cricketing world, and tributes have been flooding in from the world of sport for the “Master Blaster,” be it through Twitter or otherwise. India team-mate Yuvraj Singh added “Everybody talks about his records, but the standard he set off the field was incredible.”

India sees Sachin as almost God-like, and he is now being rewarded with India’s highest civilian honour for his services to the sport and his country, the Bharat Ratna. He has set even more records from this award, by being the first sportsman to receive the award, and at 40 is the youngest person to do so as well. 

Quoting advice from his late father, Tendulkar was told from a young age to “Chase your dreams, but don’t find short-cuts.” 

Tendulkar gave an emotional 20-minute farewell  in front of a filled-to-capacity Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai today, saying that “My life between 22 yards for (more than) 22 years, it’s hard to believe that that wonderful journey is coming to an end.”

Very true, Tendulkar’s playing days are now over, but the time for his records to be revered throughout history begins now, as a cricketer, and as a man.

 

 

 

 

Just Why Do Fans Hate Repeated Sporting Success?

I was watching the British Grand Prix from the comfort of the sofa on Sunday to witness the largest cheer of the day from the partisan British crowd coming on lap 42, in which World Champion for the last three years and current Championship leader Sebastian Vettel retired with a transmission failure. Unsporting, yes, but reflective of opinion for sure. Sky commentators theorised at the time that the sheer glee of Vettel’s retirement came from previous events, such as in Malaysia when he committed the ultimate unsportsmanlike act in disobeying the orders of his team/employers to steal the victory from his overall more popular team mate. But I think it’s more than that. The global audience of Formula 1 has had to sit back and watch Sebastian Vettel win from pole position with the fastest car time and time again, with any hiccups being more scarce than Britain winning anything in the Winter Olympics; or Sir Alex Ferguson blaming anyone other than a referee for when his team dropped any points. It’s just not natural.

Pathologically, I think that us sport fans simply lament the continued success of others. I say ‘continued’ because we don’t mind when someone wins something/tastes general success for the first time. We often feel happy that the latest event to herald a new talent is something to revel in. Of course we do. Why shouldn’t we? Someone has achieved a goal and has deserved it. Well done, them. Win the same thing over and over again however, and we won’t like them anymore. Because it’s boring. Put Manchester City up against Grimsby Town and very few of us will want City to win. Because we would expect them to.

One thought is that we might simply want to see entertainment. I’m pretty sure that in football a 3-3 draw between two evenly matched teams would be much more intriguing than a 7-0 rout. And in F1, a race with five different lead changes is far better to watch than the fastest man in the fastest car running away with the race and everyone finishing where they started. We should know, that’s all that happened for the first half of the last decade with a certain German driving a Prancing Horse… Along the same vein, in competition at the highest level spectators would expect to see a strong fight for supremacy, but if one person/team is metaphorical streets ahead of the opponent the spectacle is taken away to a certain extent.

If there’s one thing that sports fans love more than anything, however, it’s a good underdog. The 1000/1 outsider that can bring a brief smile when they defeat one of the big guns. And you only have to mention one word to sum up underdog stories this year so far: Wimbledon. Rafael Nadal crashing out in a tennis Grand Slam first round for the first time in his career against Belgian Steve Darcis; and the almighty Roger Federer falling in the second round against the un-fancied (and virtually unheard of) Sergiy Stakhovsky, who broke the Great Swiss’s run of 36 consecutive Grand Slam quarter finals that he had reached previously. The tennis fan pages were in uproar, and rightly so. Because the fact of the matter is that upsetting the norm is what keeps sport interesting.

When Wigan defeated Manchester City to win the FA Cup in May, other than if you’re a City fan, obviously, the sporting fan community was ecstatic with that result. David had befallen Goliath (or another clichė along that line…) and for one day at least, we could smile knowing that people in Bookmakers’ up and down the country had made a lot of money on the extreme odds against the underdogs when they put a cheeky quid on. Drinks are on me tonight, lads. (But Wigan got relegated from the Premier League soon after, so let’s just gloss over that for now…)

Even when people decide to support those that win everything, that seemingly makes them suddenly lower in our expectations. This breed of people are often classed as ‘Glory Hunters’. It must be great for you lot, never having to taste defeat with the team you support. So don’t be surprised to see someone wearing a Man Utd shirt one week and a Chelsea strip the next when you see them at the pub. If you know anyone that does this, give them a telling off from me. Many thanks!

The great voice of F1, Murray Walker said in an interview this month that he was happy that he wasn’t commentating during the peak of the Schumacher dominance, branding it “The dullest period I’ve seen in F1”. And he’s right. It was. The same driver winning race in, race out, week after week. And in football, Man Utd won the Premier League? Again? Wow, I love a bit of excitement, I do, nothing predictable about that at all… So I can conclude with you now that repeated success truly is boring. Simple answer to a big question, really. The one exception I can think of is the Olympics. If the same person wins the same event, it’s only every four years, so we don’t really care. If the same teams/people win everything every week, it’ll get to the point where there won’t be any point wasting our time watching for the results when we already know what’s going to happen. But as Usain Bolt wins his races in the public eye very sporadically, we can let it slide. So there’s my message to you, sportsmen and women: keep it interesting, let someone else win once in a while. Then you’ll be liked more.

Brighton vs Palace in the Play-Offs? Oh, go on then!

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Football has rivalries that span from town to town, city to city, even country to country if you look far enough. All of which mean so much to the fans of the teams involved. And Brighton and Hove Albion’s rivalry with Crystal Palace is no different. In 94 meetings between the teams, Palace have come out on top 37 times, Albion 34 times, with 23 draws. So not much to separate them at all.

As rivalries go, this is a comparatively new one in the Football League structure. The Seagulls and the Eagles only developed a grudge towards each other after an FA Cup tie in 1974, that Palace duly won 1-0 in the second replay of the tie (played at Stamford Bridge) after Palace player Phil Holder got the winner. However, this came after a disputed penalty retake from Brighton, the first kick was scored by Brighton’s Brian Horton, but the referee ordered a retake for apparent encroachment, that Horton missed.

It’s often in the biggest stakes between two enemy teams that rivalries can come to a peak. But as is the case now, the Seagulls meet the Eagles in the semi-finals of the Championship Play-Offs over two legs to secure a place to play in what is described as “The richest game in football” (as monetary benefits of the Premier League are estimated at £100m for the teams that get promoted): The Championship Play-Off Final, at Wembley; on Monday May 27th. So the stakes don’t really come much higher than this.  

The first leg is scheduled for Friday May 10th at Selhurst Park, whereas the return leg comes three days later at the AMEX, both with 7.45pm kick off times.

Both teams will fancy their chances, with Brighton topping the Championship form table since January; and both teams taking convincing wins 3-0 each at home in their meetings earlier in the season. Palace manager Ian Holloway has already tasted Play-Off success with Blackpool in 2010, and he would be hoping to pass as much of that experience on as he can to his current crop of players to give his team the best chance possible of advancing.

So, what of Glenn Murray? Former Albion hero, then moves on to Palace and carries on in the same prolific form as he had when he left the South Coast; finishing the season with the Championship Golden Boot, after netting 30 of Palace’s 72 league goals this term, one ahead of Blackburn’s Jordan Rhodes. His reception when he comes to the AMEX for the second leg will undoubtedly have an edge to it, whether that has an effect on his performance or not remains to be seen. In terms of Brighton’s efforts in front of goal, the Seagulls have scored 69 times this season, with Craig Mackail-Smith scoring 11 and January signing Leonardo Ulloa pitching in with 10 in his brief stint with the Albion. Other players have been brought in on loan with Premier League experience in the form of former England defenders Matthew Upson and Wayne Bridge, and they have had a positive bolstering effect on the ambitious Albion squad in their hunt for promotion.

Asked for their thoughts in going into the two-legged encounter, both managers tried to keep a perspective on the upcoming fixtures but the tension of the affair is already showing. Brighton manager Gus Poyet said after beating Wolves 2-0 on the last day (to seal relegation for them) “It is not a normal game [against Palace]. How can you make this into a normal game of football? I will be trying my best to think only about football. What it comes down to is two games. We`ll have a great go. We are certainly one of the teams in the best form having gone nine games unbeaten.” Incidentally, Palace also sealed relegation for their opponents on the final day, Peterborough United, after winning 3-2 (their first win since March, after a run of nine games without a win), Ian Holloway after the game: “What I’m finding out really quickly about this group is the confidence they have. We’ve come through it all now and I think we’ll be stronger for that against Brighton.”

So, the stage is set for the 180-minute battle for a shot at the £100m game. Both teams will be ready, both sets of fans likewise. Rivalries always intensify in the biggest games. The football will decide who gets the bragging rights over the 40 miles separating both teams, and the occasion of a Wembley final. My tickets are in the post…

Sebastian Vettel: Brutal, Childish, Ruthless; Superb.

The great Ayrton Senna once uttered the now immortal words of “We are competing to win. And if you no longer go for a gap that exists, you are no longer a racing driver.” And those words seem to have resonated with no one more so than Sebastian Vettel. His defying of team order “Multi 21” (to bring the cars home in formation) behind team-mate Mark Webber showed that there is a difference between simply driving a Formula 1 car and racing one. Quite a few incredibly fit athletes can drive a car in formation and happily amble around a track to the finish, but I could probably count on one hand from the archive of past drivers that would actively disobey their employers to go and get the result for themselves. Not that I’m condoning what Vettel did at all, the 25-year-old shouldn’t have won that race. Like a naughty child, when he was told not to do something, the first thing he does is to go out and do it.

Thanks to the coverage that is available to us, the humble fans of racing, we were able to hear most of the communication in the pit lane surrounding the fracas that was the Malaysian Grand Prix. “This is silly, Seb, come on.” Was the call from Christian Horner on the pit wall, after he passed his team-mate for the lead. This was instead of the more obvious “Give the place back, you were told to stay behind and that’s what we expect you to do.” Way to assert your authority, there. Vettel had the front after the race to plead miscommunication, but we all heard it from Francis ‘Rocky’ Rocquelin (Vettel’s race engineer) “Okay, Sebastian… three-second gap, save your tyres”. The response slightly later on: “Mark is too slow, get him out of the way.” sheer ignorance if nothing else. It’s not as though he could have misheard all of the transmissions, for example “Careful, Sebastian, careful” (when the two cars were close together). Also, to preserve tyre life the drivers are often asked to stick to target lap times, Vettel was asked for a 1:42.0, he went out and set a 1:40.446 on the lap before he passed Webber.

To rub salt in the already gaping wound, Vettel then took to the radio to attempt to justify his taking of the lead “I was really scared, all of a sudden he was swooping and I had to lead the line”. No wonder he got the one-finger salute from the Australian across the garage. But this was going to happen. Sebastian sensed an opportunity. Fernando Alonso (whom he would consider one of the biggest rivals to the title) was out of the race with a spectacular front wing failure at the start of the second lap, and Vettel wasn’t going to let anyone get in his way of another seven points, even his own team-mate. The general consensus of this has been ‘He shouldn’t have done it, but that’s the mark of a champion’.

While his championship qualities were shining through, as ‘Rocky’ told him immediately after the race “You wanted it bad enough, but now you’ve got some explaining to do”. Mark Webber had just as much right as Seb to go out and win that race. And seeing as team orders are currently allowed in F1, that’s what the team wanted as well. Even though Seb broke the in-house rule, Mark could have just as easily have gone ‘You want a war? You’ve got one…”, turned up his engine again and fought him to the finish. But he didn’t take the chance. Fuel saving may have had something to do with it, but while Vettel wasn’t wanting to cast himself as the Number Two, Webber seemed almost content with second place, among the seething that would’ve undoubtedly been happening under the helmet.

I’m going to be honest with you here, I don’t like Sebastian Vettel. While he has a chirpy, affable exterior, his will to win (while admirable) borders on Schumacher levels. And that’s dangerous. His target has always been known: he wants to become a legend. His mentor and friend the Seven-Time World Champion himself is a legend. But whenever you talk about the career of Michael Schumacher in retrospect, amid all the brilliance there’s always going to be a ‘But’. Surely, Vettel doesn’t want that for himself? His almost enthroned position within Red Bull and the eyes of Helmut Marko have led him to have these outbursts of Spoilt Child Syndrome moments. I’m sure that, at the age of 25, he has many victorious years ahead of him. But if he continues in this vein, he’s not going to be a legend with many friends left.