London 2012: How my Olympic experience is shaping up

For the next 18 days I’m going to be getting hot, sweaty and, inevitably, annoyed, on the London Underground. It’s likely I’ll be seen angrily cursing at foreign, and possibly even more so not foreign, tourists. You’ll probably also catch me nervously laughing off security breaches and bomb threats in true British style. That’s right, I’m working at the Olympics. And I can’t bloody wait.

My official tittle at London 2012 is ‘Liaison Officer’, and the Olympic Broadcast Service (OBS) is whom I’ll be liaising for. And just to nip those cynical types of you in the bud right away, I am more than just a glorified steward. I think.

There are a variety of roles I could be given, including guiding athletes to mixed zone interviews, looking after the broadcasters asking the questions or making sure the commentary positions are all in order. In short, a middle man between the action and the rights-holding broadcasters (RHB’s) such as the BBC, and others from Europe, as well as NBC from the USA and CCTY of China, ensuring they get the best coverage possible.

So, will I meet Usain Bolt? Probably not, no. Ah, erm, well if I’m not seeing any proper events like the athletics then maybe I’ll be granted some nice eye candy at the gymnastics or even the beach volleyball? Nope. I gave them my preference, football at Wembley, naturally. And, they gave me the Wrestling and Judo at the Excel Arena. Ah well, I only wanted to see Becks anyway…

In all seriousness though and I know it is a bit cliche, not to mention what ‘they’ want you to say, but a chance to get right in the thick of the action and learn about a sport that is completely new to me is appealing. However, I hated WWF, or whatever, and I know squat all about Judo either, but now I’m going to be eating grapples and sleeping kicks. Therefore, it’s about time I learned something about it. I won’t go into details on rules etc, mainly because I have no knowledge of those details, but also because there are already plenty available.

Team GB don’t really stand a chance of winning a Wrestling medal at the Olympics, which is a shame, however, I can confirm that the event looks a lot better than the drama and show of Wrestling you see on TV.

Due to something I neither understand nor care enough about to find out, our initial allowance of three athletes has been reduced to one measly space, filled right to the brim by Ukrainian born Olga Butkevych in the women’s event. Annoyingly, our Commonwealth champ, the also dubiously named Myroslav Dykun, has been banned for two years after he failed a drugs test.

It should still be fun though, right? Despite the slight hopes of our nation resting on one women’s broad, broad shoulders, it has a number of things going for it. The sport is intense (I for one am looking forward to some big hits) , they’ll be some frighteningly MASSIVE people to look at, and Poland/Ukraine’s Euro 2012 makes for a nice little conversation starter with the Eastern Europeans that I may have to, handle. Lovely

Judo, on the other hand, seems to me to be a good chance for Team GB. Despite suffering a medal drought for 12 years, the London Games is the first games at which GB have entered ‘judokas’ in every weight category, so we’ve already beating the Wrestlers on that one.

We won four golds in the European Cup at K2 Crawley in May. Euan Burton, won ‘Kano Cup in 2009, which no Brit has ever done, and Gemma Howell has won her last four tournaments, including two European Cup and two World Cup events.

 “Although Judo is a martial art, its practice and methods are based around gentleness. Giving way to the strength of the opponent, adapting to and using it to your advantage will achieve victory over the opponent.” 

I found that quote on Team GB’s official website. I then Youtube’d some footage, and after careful consideration present these findings: It doesn’t look bloody gentle! There are a number of moves, of which I wont spell out, but have a look of this and then tell me it’s still gentle.

I have to say I’m intrigued with what I have found out about Judo. You can be disqualified for deliberately hurting an opponent. You can’t punch or kick, but apart from that, a customary ‘Bow’ to your opponent before attempting to beat the shit out of them is about the only ‘rule’ I can find. The whole thing is based around things like honour, self-control, courage and respect.

Various members of the squad seem to have talked about the sport as their way out. Winston Gordon claimed it saved him from a gang life as a troubled child. Ashley McKenzie found himself flung into the sport by his mother after a fight caused by a Pokemon card disagreement. What’s sad, though, is that Judo is in danger of losing vital funding.

Kate Howey who was the last Brit to win a Judo medal, Silver in Sydney back in 2000, told Press Association Sport: “We really need a medal to help secure some funding and if we don’t, then it will be difficult to go to UK Sport and have a strong case.”

So, the two sports seem pretty similar in places; Wrestling being the event for the slightly more crazy, perhaps, but both are sure to prove entertaining. The added importance of the Games for the Judo team, as well as a possibility for success, also makes for an interesting experience that I can’t wait to see unfold before my eyes.


A possible England World Cup 2014 squad

My last post had a look at what Euro 2012 ‘was’ for England, and where they are headed now, so I thought I would offer my thoughts on a how a possible World Cup 2014 campaign (qualifiers included) side should look.

Not a vast amount has changed, this process has got to be, excuse the cliche, revolution not revelation, but these are the first steps. Also, of course, player development is incredibly hard to predict so this mostly based on speculation.

Goalkeeper

People have gotten very excited about Joe Hart in a relatively short space of time, but he is number one only part on merit, part on lack of competition. Will become great keeper in the future though and is nailed on. Jack Butland, John Ruddy, or any English keeper for that matter, will need to be magnificent to knock him off, but for Hart’s sake I hope they are good enough to compete so the Manchester City man does not become complacent. Ben Foster coming out of an early retirement wouldn’t be the worst news in the World.

 Never to be seen again: Rob Green, Scott Carson, Paul Robinson

Defence

England’s back-four were very impressive in Euro 2012. Ashley Cole remains the only consistent, at international level, World class player in the squad and has to play until his form/legs drop. Club understudy Ryan Bertrand pips Leighton Baines to long-term replacement. Glen Johnson was very good out in Ukraine, but is likely to remain under scrutiny. Micah Richards can feel aggrieved to have been left out of the squad, but needs to play more at Manchester City. Kyle Walker more likely to replace Johnson, whose tournament form should see him used in qualifiers, if continued next season. Martin Kelly needs a couple of regular placed, good seasons, to compete, as does Chris Smalling.

Joleon Lescott and John Terry looked solid together, but the latter is over the hill and with a court case on the horizon should be phased out now in order to go out on a footballing high(ish) after having a good campaign, but I’m sure will always make himself available.

Lescott, a Premier League winner, is one of the first on the team-sheet for me now and I would prefer former club-mate Phil Jagielka to utility-man/positionally confused Phil Jones with Gary Cahill my preferred back-up if Chelsea form picks up.

As for the Rio Ferdinand situation, for Hodgson to stand by his infamous ‘footballing reasons’ line, the Manchester United man needs a flawless season to be brought back in.

 Never to be seen again: Stephen Warnock, Rio Ferdinand, (possibly) John Terry & Glen Johnson

Midfield (deep) 

Steven Gerrard played arguably the best he has ever done for England at Euro 2012. The captaincy, outrightly his this time, definitely helped. But, cramp in the 70th minute of a quarter-final shows his aged legs are becoming an issue. Scott Parker’s  passion cannot be faulted, and he works like a trooper, but his ability is not good enough for the world stage is England want to change how they play.

Jack Wilshere can be huge for the Three Lions, he can be the deep-lying, ball-playing midfielder with a creative edge that we need. We can’t pin all our hopes on a 20-year-old that has not played football in over a year, Gerrard, becoming a deeper midfielder with age, should accompany him at least for the qualifiers and possibly be part of the squad for experience.

Jack Rodwell’s energy and protection, with Tom Cleverley’s ability, are also positive signs if their development continues. Possibly, one of whom to play alongside Wilshere in Brazil.

Other points; Paul Scholes should have been in Ukraine, but too late now. No amount of videos should see Owen Hargreaves re-called. Jordan Henderson, apparently technically brilliant in training, needs confidence of a good club season. Frank Lampard’s injury may have just got the best out of Gerrard.

 Never to be seen again: Scott Parker, Frank Lampard, Owen Hargreaves, Gareth Barry, Paul Scholes

 Midfield (attacking) 

Wayne Rooney can be World class, he can also be stupid. England need the former, and they need it almost overtime. He was incredibly poor against Italy. He was lacking match fitness, but that was his fault for getting suspended.

Oxlade-Chamberlain had a decent tournament, he didn’t sparkle, but the game time will help him invaluably. Eventually he will be a central-midfielder but whilst he is still raw, exciting and terrifying for defenders, play him on the wing, over Theo Walcott, who is an impact sub while consistency evades him.

It’s the other flank that I have issues with. Ashley Young needs a big season to be included again, complete flop on the big stage and it will be interesting to see how he reacts. Let’s remember that he was pretty impressive beforehand, though. James Milner received a lot of criticism for what I thought was a decent campaign in a certain job, but that job should not exist if England change their ways – use a full-back that can defend.

The likes of Wilfried Zaha and Raheem Sterling could break through if given regular chances at bigger club; a transfer and a loan possibly. Adam Johnson too should move if he cannot play at City, he has the potential to be class. You never know, Adam Lallana could stake a claim with a brilliant season with Southampton, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain were team-mates not that long ago.

Mentions also for Josh McEachran, who with more game time can burst onto the scene, in a more central position, and Ross Barkley, who many believe can be a top player.

 Never to be seen again: James Milner, Stewart Downing

Forwards

Hopefully Danny Welbeck is granted a regular starting-role at Manchester United, and continues to grow is ability and confidence. A brilliant finish against Sweden, an area that he has been labeled erratic in, is hopefully a sign of things to come.

Daniel Sturridge has the flair and arrogance, possibly sometimes too much, that England forwards lack. He needs to find a consistent final product and stop being selfish, then he can be a threat. Andy Carroll remains a different option from the bench for me, must be involved after a good tournament, hoping for a better season with Liverpool.

Jermain Defoe, who I have always rated as a great finisher, could be a squad member for qualifiers but should be cast aside for younger talent at the finals. Unfortunately, we’re still waiting for that other striker to break through, or return to form, though. I realise this would be a relatively young strike-force, but with the experience Welbeck and Carroll gained from this summer, and the likes on Rooney behind them, fearless youth is exciting.

 Never to be seen again: Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch,

 FULL XI (4-2-3-1)

Hart

Walker, Jagielka, Lescott, Cole

Gerrard, Wilshere

Chamberlain, Rooney, Young/Johnson

Welbeck


Eng-Eugh-Land?

England succeeded at Euro 2012, unfortunately.

The football was poor and the way in which the Three Lions bowed out at the quarter-final stage was rather disappointing, leaving a sense that we could have done better. The awesome Andrea Pirlo was allowed far too much time, and devastated accordingly. There was no such sign of any ‘world-class’ player among our own ranks, bar Ashley Cole perhaps (who was unfortunate to go on to miss a penalty). The other two, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney, failing to show up.

However, do not be fooled. Injuries, fatigue (a winter break please FA), lack of preparation time for the manager, and ‘footballing reasons’ meant that winning Group D and coming a spot-kick or two away from a semi-final is, sadly, a good achievement.

I, like all England fans, want to see more. I want to see the national side winning tournaments. But expectations were low on entering this competition, so why should essentially France gifting our mediocre side top-spot, before scraping our way into a penalty shoot-out that we were destined to lose (a whole other debate) change anything?

England do not produce technically gifted players, not compared to the likes of Spain or Germany. Roy Hodgson did what he could with an average group of players (that had any strength in depth robbed of them), setting them out in a dated and rigid system, but probably the right one to try and be ‘hart to beat’. And, unbeaten in 90 minutes, even 120 minutes, is something that can make us proud, if not inspired. There is no praise for the pride shown, though, which should be a given.

Gerrard displayed arguably his best performances is a jersey with the Three Lions’ badge on. John Terry and Joleon Lescott were brilliant, Glen Johnson proved many wrong and Andy Carroll pleasantly surprised. Yes, Ashley Young completely flopped on the big stage, and Joe Hart reminded everyone to not get overly excited just yet, but we didn’t fail.

So what next? For one, to squash any ridiculous arguments, keep Hodgson. Then, look to to the future. He is known to be a keen advocate of promoting youth football, his work with the Swiss national side well noted. As well as plenty more experience to be counted.

Let’s not forget about Euro 2012, positives can be taken from the ‘togetherness’ if not the football, but let’s also not get caught up on it. Hodgson has a platform to build on for World Cup 2014, and the qualifiers.

In Jack Wilshere, we have a top-class midfielder in the making. It is naive to say that he can be our Pirlo, pinning the hopes of a nation on a 20-year-old who has not kick a football in over a year is rash. But, he will continue to develop at Arsenal and can be that technically gifted player that can retain possession under-pressure, possessing a clinical eye for a pass too. Another young Gunner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, is the most exciting England player I can remember (forgive me for being too young for Paul Gascoigne).

But we also need focus on the ‘real’ youth. David Bernstein’s National Football Centre at St George’s Park must be a success. The whole way in which football in taught to kids need to change, pitch sizes shrinking at youth level is a start but to revamp the system enough to start producing a different type of footballer will take time – something Hodgson needs to, and I’m sure he will, be eager to help with.

Calls that all over-30s need purging of the England squad are wrong. The youth development but come along side the likes of Chamberlain and Wilshere into the squad now, along with others, but with a balance of experience to help them on their way. The foreign influence on the Premier League, robbing English youngsters of places, must also be limited.

Fans are to be warned, though, if they cannot accept England as a solid, ‘hard to beat’, or what critics call ‘boring’, side, and they are going to have to wait patiently, for a period of length that no-one knows and is likely to include numerous failed experiments with nothing more, and possibly less, than quarter-final finishes, for a new style to be perfected.

Poor ball retention is not a new problem for us, and it will not go away quickly. England are not world beaters, and they will not become them easily.


The Next Walcott

I’m a Saints fan. But I also have a place in my heart for Arsenal. This joint alliance has led to just a few issues with the latest signing of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (AOC) for a reported, and ridiculous £12m, possibly rising to around £15m.

In my opinion on the player, the fee is too much for him right now. From watching him in League One last year he clearly has quality, pace and work rate- and I know being an English 17-year-old adds to his value, but he has not even been tested in the Championship let alone the tough Premiership defences.

From AOC’s viewpoint, I am also a bit disappointed. In terms of player ability, age and transfer fee, this is a very similar deal to the Theo Walcott deal. It took him three or four years to get a solid place in the Arsenal team, and he at least had Championship experience. Chamberlain will know this and must know that he will have to do plenty of benchwarming himself. Of course money is involved but The Ox was earning more than your average teen at Saints and as will be able to make plenty more in his career, so right now he should concentrate on getting games. Have a season with Saints, push for promotion to the Premier League with them. If you get there, great. If not, you’ll probably have a good season in the Championship and then look for a move to the top flight. I can only assume that Arsene Wenger has not only given him inside info on the sale of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, but also a imminent departure of Andrei Arshavin and Walcott; thus giving him a chance of making the side.

I am slightly annoyed as a Saints fan. Just as with Walcott and Gareth Bale, our new star youngster has decided to leave the coast (where may I remind you there are no riots currently) to North London. However it has to be said Football is a business, and this is good business. The deal is a new club record for Saints and hopefully all of it will go back into the club and help strengthen in the push back to the Premier League. Saints looked very good in their opening 3-1 win against Leeds- and that was without AOC. The day when the club is no longer a feeder to the top teams is far away yet, however the start to the season has been very promising indeed.

From Arsenal’s point of view I don’t think it’s a great deal. The £12m fee is just short of what Arsene paid for Arshavin and is more than that paid for Nasri or Robin van Persie. Better players are available for that sort of money. And not just better players, players that Arsenal would gain more from. West Ham United have said they are happy to let Scott Parker, an incredible player who had a great season last time round, go for the right price- WHU can’t realistically ask for much more than £10 for an ageing player with aspirations for England who will otherwise be playing in the Championship next season. Joey Barton, another english midfielder who was great last year is available, some people rant about his bad boy streak but that is just as much of a risk as splashing £15m on an unproven teen. A move for one of these would help the team more, now, and allow an unsettled Fabregas to leave and Wenger to make another tidy profit on a player bought at next to nothing.

Everyone knows Arsenal’s main problem is their defence. Although Carl Jenkinson is promising (he has certainly showed his ability to find the net spectacularly. Shame it was in the wrong net). Laurent Koscielny and Seb Squillaci are not really good enough I’m afraid, and Kieran Gibbs is still learning his trade at left back. I think Arsene should be worrying more about tightening up at the back and in midfield, depending on the Fabregas situation, if he doesn’t want to get laughed at when announcing he thinks he can win the title.

Wenger has said he has been working through the night to sign the best players. I have a lot of faith in his choice of players, he brought so many good players to the club, but the odd Franny Jeffers type signing has slipped in every now and again and I wonder if his judgement is deteriorating. I also wonder if the time and money spent/wasted on AOC means that there will not be any more before the end of the 31 August. I hope I am wrong and it is actually the beginning of a flurry.

This is a big money, big risk move and for those who argue that the big risk could bring a big gain, I don’t disagree but I do again say; say look at Walcott. He has now started to flourish after his £12m move as a 16-year-old, but it took 4 years. Not ideal for Arsenal, nor Walcott. They are virtually identical as players- and they don’t look too dis-similar either!

There is some good news though for goners at least; Bendtner has announced he is leaving. Thank god.


Misja 21

With Poland co-hosting the European Championships this time next year; Gazeta, a Polish news machine, is sending myself and 20 other students from City University to 21 Polish cities to find out if the country is ready for the mass following of football fans that will be arriving next year in the most exciting social-media journalism project to date!

I have been allocated Trojmiasto, the tri-city area of Gdansk, Gdynia and Sopot. Follow all my adventures starting with first impressions and the booking of accommodation and travel here.

Follow my Twitter and find Misja21 on Twitter and Facebook as another way to follow the mission.


Grant Wahl For FIFA People’s President

With the ‘elections’ for the FIFA president on the first of June, we may finally see the back of Sepp Blatter, who is seeking a forth term.

I use the word ‘election’ loosely. Supposedly it will be FIFA’s congress who will vote for the new president, however it has emerged that it may be more of an executive and undemocratic decision by Jack Warner and Michel Platini.

Continue reading


Referee Improvisation

Peter Walton, one of the premiership’s senior referees at 51, showed some  of his miming talents in the mid-week game between Everton and Birmingham. 40 minutes in, when Jordan Mutch fouled Louis Saha, Walton decided it merited a booking. However, he had left his cards in the changing rooms and was forced to improvise and use an imaginary yellow card:


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