Archive for the ‘Sport’ Category


In Football, Sport on 3 July 2012 at 10:30

I am taking the liberty of publishing an excellent short article from my long friend Barrie Harding that, to me, sums up the problems Roy Hodgson has with the English national football team.

The European Championship once again showed just how far we have to go to be able to compete with the top sides. And right now we are going further back rather than forward.

Don’t believe anyone who says that English players cannot be technically improved. We are essentially the same people as other Europeans (including Spain and Italy) so why are they so much more comfortable on the ball. One word answer – attitude.

It’s the attitude of the fans first of all. The football was nicely played but do you think the average fan will be prepared to watch that slo-mo football every week?

The clubs clearly don’t believe so and persevere with the usual thud and blunder type of game that is more exciting to watch for the fans and relies more on strength than on skill. Gone are the days when we could overpower teams. They are all as fit if not fitter than us and even when not as physically strong – as with players like Iniesta and Xavi – they have so much skill they make players like Milner look like an elephant trying to swat a fly.

I’ve heard “experts” saying that we can be as good. Physically I’m sure that’s correct but unless we have a complete rethink of our whole attitude to the game nothing will change insofar as our international side is concerned. And if we did decided to change it won’t be the current squad or even any of those currently playing now at any age that will benefit.

Look at our school system and see how many schools actually encourage football or have the proper facilities or coaches. How many kids do you see kicking a ball around in a playground? When a kid does show some skill they get into a organized team – and who gets to the top of that team? Not the best but the biggest and strongest.

Kids develop physically at different times – some earlier than others and if they are interested in football they look better than the smaller kids because they can run faster and generally knock the other kids around to impress the coaches who, themselves, are indoctrinated in the same ways of developing athletes rather than players.

This isn’t new. It happened when I was young and playing football. My point is that we haven’t progressed from that same attitude we had back in the fifties and sixties.

So don’t hold your breath for an overhaul of the way we play. If we accept that as a given the next question is how do we make the most of the footballers we have and that means developing a style and tactics that fit.

Barrie Harding

PS I am reminded of a comment made many years ago that fits our basic football player. It concerned a player well known for being a strong powerful athlete with the nickname of “Horse”. When asked whether this player got that nickname because he was powerful and graceful as a racehorse his manager replied “no, it’s because he has the brains of a rocking horse and the close control of a clothes horse!”

Personal Memories of Seve

In Books, Sport on 7 May 2011 at 19:03

Along with other sports lovers I have been saddened by the loss of Severiano Ballesteros after he died from a brain tumour diagnosed three years ago, aged just 54. He was a terrific golfer, a professional’s professional, and a great character. His passing will be a huge loss to golf and sport in general.

I have my own fond memories of Seve. From 1986-1994 I was the official photographer for Dunhill at the British Masters Golf tournament held at Woburn Golf & Country Club. I met him for the first time in 1986 in the tent  assigned to my team on the 1st tee at the ProAm event that preceded the main tournament. Seve had been teamed with a rather nervous Tim Brooke-Taylor, the former Goodie, who was concerned about how his golf might stand up to scrutiny playing in the same foursome as the great master. Tim had cut his hand while searching for a ball while warming up on the practice ground, and as my wife applied first-aid to his injury, they were filmed by TV cameras which only caused Tim further trepidation. Seve won the Masters that year and returned to play in the tournament several times more, winning again in 1991.

Tim Brooke-Taylor need not have worried; accordingly he told me later that Seve had been amazing and had been a calm influence on him and the other team members throughout the 18 holes by giving them all a great deal of encouragement that boosted their confidence.

I had taken a photograph of Tim with Seve (seen here) before they teed-off and I was privileged when Tim asked if he could use this to illustrate the back cover of his book Tim Brooke-Taylor’s Golf Bag. When the book was published in 1989, to mark the occasion I invited Tim to my studio after the ProAm event where I presented him with a framed canvas bonded print of the photograph. I was thrilled when he took the trouble to write to say the photograph took pride of place above the fireplace at his Berkshire home.

Over the years Seve’s command of English that seemed at first limited appeared to improve – sufficiently in fact to tick me off on one occasion for unthinkingly placing myself in his eye line as he was about to make a putt. I got the rough end of his tongue but he was suitably gracious to exchange some pleasant banter about he had finished playing for the day. Despite a tiring round that had not completely gone his way he willingly gave his time before returning to his hotel to be photographed by me with various competition winners that had won tickets for the Masters. He didn’t have to do this; and while others on the golf circuit may have refused, Seve had time for his fans.

As a photographer I worked with Seve on four or five occasions. I always found him to be easy going, polite and ready to share a joke when off the course – but during the tournament, when concentrating, he could sometimes be feisty. But Seve Ballesteros was always thoroughly professional and gained everybody’s respect and was extremely well liked.  His passing marks the end of a legend.

Arsene Denies Uefa Charge

In Arsenal FC, Barcelona FC, Football, Referees, Sport on 9 March 2011 at 11:55

I admit to being biased but as a life-long Arsenal supporter I do have an axe to grind about referees. The sending off of Van Persie against Barcelona was ridiculous and in my view red cards should be restricted to dangerous play and gross misconduct. Whether he kicked the ball away deliberately after the whistle had blown is open to conjecture – or more to the point dependant on the club you support. But there are other more important issues here. Arsenal played badly but they were in with a chance after Barca had scored an own goal, but a sending off altered the entire ethos of the game. The fans who have paid a lot of money to see a game want to be entertained and when a  player is dismissed from the field of play for a trivial offence or a poor decision this takes away the passion of the game and can often kill the fans’ enjoyment. And, as for Van Persie wasting time – how much time was lost in the post-decision argument by both teams once the red card had been shown.

It appears that the coaches are always chastised for their comments but we never hear of the referees cautioned for wrong decisions. This is an emotive game, and despite the financial concerns, teams want to win. Haven’t the coaches got a right to criticise in the same way that they have to take it on the chin for their misjudgments? I also believe that high-profile coaches such as Wenger and Ferguson have become targets – not so much by the match officials – but officialdom, and you can sympathise at times with their reactions.

In Arsenal’s case this is the second major decision that has gone against them in consecutive games. This may well upset the entire balance of their season. On Saturday against Sunderland Arshavin scored a perfectly good goal but through a basic error made by an official that ruled him offside,  two points were lost after the goal was disallowed. At this stage in the season and with the tightness at the top of the table, this of course could well cost Arsenal the Premier League championship.

We must accept that referees and linesmen (oops – referee’s assistants) make mistakes – that is life, but the officiating bodies must be prepared to accept this and overturn decisions when they are clearly wrong. In every game we have the same old problems. The spirit is being knocked out of the sport because of the arguing that ensues over poor decisions. In the case of European games, there are now five officials, yet last night Arsenal were awarded a corner that clearly came off Van Persie and not the Barca defender so why did the official on the goal line and the one running the line not see this? Arsenal may have played badly but the referee also had a poor game.

There is plenty of value in the view that referees should be expected to comment on their decisions after the game so that everyone associated has a clear impression over what was in his mind. But match officials are wrapped in cotton wool and prevented from speaking by the ruling bodies who are overly protective. However, if referees were allowed to speak and explain their actions this would clear up a lot of misconceptions.

For the sake of the game we have to own up to the fact that the time is right for replays to be shown on crucial decisions. This would soon become an acceptable part of the game as it has done in cricket and it would lead to a fairer decision-making system that would be less open to abuse. It seems wrong that when TV cameras and most of the fans within a stadium have seen a ball that has clearly crossed the line for a goal, it can be disallowed because a referee has made a blatant mistake. When it has been proved that an error had been made it is time to own up to human misgivings by reversing a wrong decision.  The officials are not immune from making mistakes like the rest of us, and now that the game has become so fast and with players not averse to cheating we have to appreciate this and make amends. But the FA, Uefa and FIFA must also accept that ridiculous errors and countless unjustified  ‘sendings off’ are debilitating football and is causing damage that could easily be rectified by electronic replays. So why won’t they introduce them?

STOP PRESS: Arsene Wenger, quite rightly in my opinion, has criticised Uefa for the charges they have made against him following his alleged comments against the Swiss referee Massimo Busacca. Wenger was charged with using ‘inappropriate language’ to the referee but he has denied this. He has come out and said: “It would be good for Uefa to show some humility, to apologise for what happened, not charge people who have done nothing wrong”.  I believe that it is time for all of football’s controlling bodies to step down from their ivory towers to bring some commonsense back into the game and to believing that they are always right on every issue.