The jury is currently still out; however, they are formulating and deliberating a verdict on one Andrew Murray.  The defence came in with some last minute evidence marked exhibit W14 9EQ.  For the win at London’s Queens Club was a real statement to the tennis world….or was it?

 

The weakened field at the new Aegon Championships – due to the injury to Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer taking a week off, Novak Djokovic playing elsewhere, and smattering of the other top 10 players meant it was no real test for the fiery Scot.  Indeed the only time he broke sweat in the tournament was to sign all the over-sized tennis balls.  The main attraction of a Murray vs Roddick final was snatched away by a cruel twist of fate and ankle in the semis.  The big serving American had shown a real resurgence, new confidence in his ground-strokes, better movement and fitness following his weight-loss regime brought in by his new coach Larry Stefanki.  The final that should have been would have been a real examination of the World Number 3s’ credentials; as it was, we were merely treated to some good old-fashioned propaganda at the hands of the BBC.

 

There is no disputing the talent, skill, fitness, energy, strength and determination of Andy; murraydespite my tone I am an avid fan of all he has achieved, and delight in the way he rubs so many of the establishment, hierarchy and his fellow professionals up the wrong way.  I think that the current top four in the world are the best group there has been for some time, and to break into this exclusive club and cement his place would be the greatest British sporting achievement of recent years had the success of the Summer 2008 Olympics not been so great. 

Still the pressure and expectation heaped on his young shoulders by the media and public is far worse than any dip-in-form or niggling injury that may betide his preparations for the big one.  The screams and Union Jacks will be at fever-pitch for the whole time Andy is within sight of the new centre court beams at SW19.

The problem with Wimbledon other than all the pressure and expectation is plainly the fact the best players in the world come out to win.  The main contenders will all be there thinking they can win, but who will walk away champion?

 

Rafael Nadal: Reigning World Number 1.  Defending champion, holds the Australian Open and various Masters and smaller titles and holds the record with Bjorn Borg for 4 consecutive French Open titles. 

Not only did he win the greatest final ever seen, current World Number 1 Rafael Nadal is a bull and a bully on the court.  He can out fight and out-last any opponent.  His full western-grip forehand with lasso style follow through enables him to pull off near-impossible winners and outrageous angles.  The saving grace for Andy Murray here is his knee injury which has forced him to withdraw.

Roger Federer:  World Number 2. 5 time consecutive winner at Wimbledon, French Open Champion and reigning US Open champion; he also holds the record with Pete Sampras for most Grand-Slam titles(14) and stands alone with the most consecutive Grand-Slam finals(10).

Finally broke his jinx at Roland Garros, will undoubtedly surpass Sampras’ haul of 14 and  widely regarded as the best player ever.  Roger Federer has more class than the entire education system on these British Isles; not only is he truly a king on the tennis court, where mere mortals look for celestial guidance when in his presence,  he is  an active UNICEF ambassador and speaks fluently in three languages and has a basic grasp of another three .  Federer is clearly the favourite for the title and Murray will not look forward to meeting him in the final should he make it that far.  The lesson he received at Indian Wells last year must still haunt Murray and would certainly creep into his head should they meet.

 

 As for the rest of the field, many will flatter to deceive and show great promise; the names to look out for at the All England Club include:

  • Novak Djokovic
  • Juan Martin del Potro
  • Andy Roddick
  • Fernando Verdasco
  • Marin Cilic
  • Ivo Karlovic

 

Will Andy Murray win Wimbledon?  I’m sorry to say no, not yet.  This will be Roger Federer’s year, and along with it, his place in history as the Greatest Ever.

 federer

 CAS

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Well what a sporting week! For those of you who need a recap, here we go:

  • Rangers claimed the Scottish Premier League from a limp Celtic.
  • Newcastle and Middlesbrough were relegated to the Championship.
  • Burnley won promotion to the Premier League.
  • Paul Casey won the BMW championship at Wentworth to rise to world number 3.
  • Floyd Mayweather Jnr. wows London with his class in the build-up to his latest fight(and victory).
  • Leinster win the Heineken Cup against Leicester in Edinburgh.
  • Brawn GP and the resurgent Jenson Button win in Monaco to increase their strangle hold on Formula 1.

We were certainly spoiled for action this week, but I want to discuss the end of another great season in football, and specifically a real achievement in these boom and bust days.

Fulham are undoubtedly one of the smaller teams in London, they have a small, historic stadium on the banks of the Thames.  Money has been tight since the boom days of Jean Tigana and Chris Coleman, so where has this club come from to finish 7th in with the billionaires of the Premier League and just how was it done?

Fulham are actually the oldest professional football team in London, originating in the 1890s. The club quickly switched to Craimagesven Cottage, where it has remained, despite the attempts of many an owner. The club has never had the highs of many of its neighbours, and indeed has had more than its fair share of dark days. The club has been close to folding more times than deserved, with the value of its location being deemed higher than its role in the community.
But in recent years the club has been rejuvenated under the stewardship of the often deservedly maligned Mohamed Al Fayed. He took over the club in the late 90’s when the club was again on the brink of obscurity, and they haven’t looked back.
Enough with the history lesson, on with current affairs. Fulham are in Europe, finished in their highest ever position in the Premier League, and have the 2008/2009 Manager of the Year.

Roy Hodgson took over the club in late December 2007, they had won 2 games in 20 attempts; he dragged the sinking club gasping and gulping for air to the safety of the shore, and survival in the Premier League.  Fueled with some remarkable results – not least the 3-2 victory away at Manchester City, Hodgson gained the adoration of the fans and plaudits from the footballing world.  Since then Roy has taken Fulham up to the heady heights of the inaugural Europa League and well into the top half of the league.

HodgsonThis is not the first success story of this “old-school” football man.  Roy is probably best know for his time at F.C Internazionale Milano and the Swiss national team.  He started his managerial helm in Sweden at Halmstads in the mid seventies, and has gone on to manage 14 clubs and countries, mainly in continental Europe.  But the turn-around he has performed in West London has to be the Jewel in the Crown.  A club spent-out on previous managers, has quietly risen through far “bigger teams” into a much coveted European place.  Shrewd in the transfer market with signings like the fragile Messrs Johnson and Bullard and the revelations Murphy, Pantsil and the exceptional Hangeland(From his previous club Viking), Hodgson has taken the club by the scruff of the neck and installed a belief in football, not long-ball.  Training techniques, sport science, priceless tactical and man-management knowledge have come in and an air of confidence and belief surrounds the Cottage. 

Whether the glamour of European football is enough to keep the star performers, and entice real quality to the banks of the Thames, will, I’m sure have a real bearing on next season.  But there is no doubt in the class of this multi-lingual, master pundit, tactician and motivator, and his ability of managing at the top level at the youthful age of 61.  On this evidence he beats the old master(Sir Alex Ferguson) and the young pretender(David Moyes) to the Manager of the Year 2008/2009.

 

CAS

This Saturday, I was unfortunate enough to be working. It was a glorious day – the sun was high, hot and bright; the beautiful game was being played all over the country, and I had no way of being part of any of it. My playing career was over long before I had hair on my chest, and certainly long before I went under the surgeons knife. My home football team is over 100 miles away and my adoptive team is over 250 miles away – this makes a trip to see live football too few and far between.

The closest I got to the beautiful game this Saturday was hearing at half time “Ha Ha, fu*&ing Man U are gettin beat 2 nil!” Upon hearing this, I had a rueful smile and wished I had a telephone betting account. I made the bold decision to get the radio out and put the always amusing BBC Five Live on, and proclaiming Man U will win 4 – 2. Now I understand I was wrong by one, but it was as Hugo Weaving(Agent Smith) said.

Manchester United, for all the tales of favouritism and conspiracy theories have a great habit of winning games in the second half, rising like Lazarus.

1993, Maine Road, 3.45pm, Manchester City 2 – Manchester United 0. Galatasary had dumped United out of Europe in midweek and they were trailing against their fierce local rivals. Fergie put the hairdryer on and sent them out for the second half. Eric Cantona inspired Man U to an amazing second half performance capped off with a Roy Keane winner to leave the blue half of Manchester 2-3 winners.

1999, Stadio delle Alpi, 7.57pm, Juventus 2 Manchester United 0. Fellipo Inzaghi has just scored his second to make it 3 keane1– 1 on aggregate, and “The Old Lady” has an away goal in the bank. Roy Keane as so often in his career steps up to the plate and scores, dragging his team kicking and screaming into the match. A Dwight Yorke header before half-time levels the match and edges United ahead on the away goals rule. Half-time and Fergie leaves the hair dryer in the box, puts his arm around Jaap Stam, barks a few orders in gruff Glaswegian, and sends his team on their way. With a little over five minutes to go, United withstand Juve’s pressure and break away with Dwight Yorke, the bulky frame of Angello Peruzzi brings him down, but good advantage play allows Andy, sorry Andrew Cole to tap into an empty net, and send the team from England through to the final in Barcelona.

1999, Camp Nou, 9.31pm, Bayern Munich 1 Manchester United 0. After trailing the German champions for 91 minutes of football, United missing the suspended duo of Keane and Scholes, get a corner. The fourth official holds his board up to show 3 minutes of added time. After some “pinball football” in the Munich box, the ball comes to Sheringham, who bundles the ball into the net. Seconds remaining in injury time, another corner to Man U, Beckham swings it onto Sheringhams head, a glancing header down, Solskjaer sticks out his right leg and the ball flies into the top corner.

2001, White Hart Lane, 3.45pm Tottenham Hotspur 3 Manchester United 0. Any betting man would put their house on Spurs to win the game – fortunatley not this betting man. But one unfortunate fan did put over two hundred thousand pounds on. The goals came thick and fast for Maunited2n U that half. Fergie brought on Silvestre for pace on the left and Solskjaer for a three-man attack. One minute is all he had to wait as Cole pulled the first back. Blanc added another on 58 minutes as United smelled the North Londeners blood in the water. Ruud van Nistelrooy got the equaliser on 72 minutes, United now rampant went for the jugular, and Juan Sebastian Veron put them in front just four minutes after. And then just to show their utter superiority United through David Beckham added another three minutes from the end, to make it a real five-star half.

These are only my most memorable occasions of Manchester United in the second half, there are many more equally important and amazing come-backs in the history books. I think the main conclusion to be drawn from these facts is that Manchester United are never beat in a game until the final whistle has been blown, whether it be 90 or 99 minutes on the clock. The undeniable genius of Sir Alexander Chapman Ferguson through from his early days at East Stirling and his first managerial honour at St. Mirren up to what will be with this years Premier League(sorry Liverpool and Chelsea) his 44th in total. Regardless of the money he has had over the years, the “poaching” of young stars and the ever-green tales of favouritism and “fergie-time”, he is the best football manager of all time.

CAS

This could be the start of a beautiful relationship…

Today is Earth Day; created to be in the Spring for our Northern Hemisphere and Autumn in the Southern.  We are to appreciate all that is great in and on this insignificant little rock, orbiting a sub-standard Sun (thank-you Prof. Hawking, get well soon) that we call home.  Well I personally have a lot to be thankful for: my home, my lady, my job, my health, my family and I could go on.  But I want to talk about my thanks to our Sporting Earth, particularly Golf on this occasion.

Firstly I enjoy playing and watching most, if not all, sports – but golf is the sport closest to my heart.  I have never been a great player and would class myself in the “competent” bracket.  I have suffered as a junior at the hands of my peers for being a poor player; not being able to play some days as no-one would play with me.  But I have also enjoyed playing on some of the best courses that are on offer, not least the very “home of golf”.  It is not your sympathy that I am after, I just wanted you to know that I have seen or done just about all of it.     I watched most of this years Masters at the always jaw-dropping Augusta National.  The amazing scenery, the lightening greens, the world’s best players gathered to battle nature and each other.  However, I believe that Augusta is one of the things that will always give golf and certain people in the game decidedly ugly element.    The elitism that is epitomised by the Augusta National is one of the major problems in golf.  “Normal” people 120px-masterstournamentlogo_svglike you and I are not able to play courses like these, including the Loch Lomond Golf Club on the Bonny Banks.  I was turned away at the gate, not even allowed to see the club house let alone the fairways.  To play these courses you must be invited to do so by an existing member who in turn is invited to join.  Particularly in Augustas’ case is the racism and sexism that I believe still exists at the heart of many clubs.  Vile as it is in 2009 that these things exist anywhere in the world, let alone at the core of one of the most popular sports on our Earth and at one of its most prestigious events.  Augusta, under great pressure, finally “allowed” a black member in 1990.  To my knowledge there are still no women members.

In the real world of golf it is rare to see this level of exclusion in a golf club; however this elitism and “boys club” feel is still around most corners, and this perception, particulary to newcomers to the game and those not profficiant and skilled at the sport, will continually be a turn-off to me and many many more.  This is something that needs to be looked at and addressed at the echilons of the game if it is to continue to grow and flourish, particularly in these uncertain times.

All this aside, I was glued to the screen throughout the four rounds in America.  To see the slightly aged, un-fashionable and bulky figure of Kenny Perry lead the rest of the pack was refreshing and exciting.  Chad Campbell and eventual winner Angel Cabrera showing that us with a slightly larger waist can still achieve great things.  The added cameo of Big Phil and Tiger going toe-to-toe for 18 spell-binding holes made it one of the best Masters in years.   We have 3 more majors to look forward to this year, the original and best will be visiting Turnberry, with Padraig looking for 3 in a row and Tiger looking to claim back what he sees as his Open and edge ever closer to Jack’s haul.

Thanks for reading through my rants and personal traumas in golf this time; I’d like to leave you with another fantastic sport and a fantastic example of a footballer:  Paul Aaron Scholes.  600 games for Manchester United.  15 years(and counting) at the same scholes4_185x185_526709bclub is amazing commitment, especially in the modern game.  A local boy when he started, and along side Ryan Giggs (699 apps.) they are the only example any young person should look at when wanting to aspire to reach the top.  Modest, humble, hard working, skilled and so dedicated they are still at the very pinacle of their sport well into their thirties.

CAS