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Archive for the ‘The Beautiful Game’ Category

Becks retirement: Iconic football legend David Beckham deserves his special place in history of the beautiful game

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There is no player in the history of the game who has done more to promote English football than David Beckham. And his retirement at the age of 38 will trigger tributes from around the world because his contribution to the sport has been unique.

Icon, celebrity, legend, superstar, ambassador. No one can bend it like Beckham. And no-one has given back so much to the beautiful game.

He may not be the greatest footballer who ever played the game. But Becks represents something special. Throughout his career he has made the most of his incredible talent, consistently revelled in proving the critics wrong when they have tried to write him off and brought glamour, dignity and pride to representing his country and a glittering array of the world’s most famous football clubs.

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At Old Trafford he starred in the team that won an unprecedented Treble in 1999. But when Manchester United sold him to Real Madrid in 2003 after his infamous fall-out with his mentor and father-figure Sir Alex Ferguson, Becks was being outshone by a galaxy of stars.

It has been the same in Madrid, Milan, Los Angeles, Paris and during his long and illustrious England career. But there is no footballer who has worked harder to make the most of his god given talent, to defy the critics who regularly tried to write him off or to win over the fans who did not always love him.

There is no greater measure of the man than the way he turned around the obscene hatred he endured after being sent off in the 1998 World Cup for petulantly kicking out in that epic quarter-final defeat by Argentina.

The way he singled-handedly dragged England to the 2002 World Cup with an unbelievable performance in the decisive qualifying match against Greece was the stuff of legend, crowned by his remarkable injury time free-kick that completed the journey from villain of 98 to glorious hero.

Born on 2 May 1975, David Robert Joseph Beckham made his name playing for his boyhood heroes Manchester United. As a youngster he attended one of Bobby Charlton’s football schools in Manchester and won the chance to take part in a training session at FC Barcelona. After trials with Leyton Orient, Norwich City and Tottenham Hotspur, he became part of a famous group of youngsters who won the FA Youth Cup for Manchester United in May 1992.

He went on loan to Preston in 1994/95 before returning to Old Trafford and making his Premier League debut for Manchester United in a goal-less draw against Leeds United on 2 April 1995. At United he went on to win six Premier League titles, two FA Cups and the European Champions League with United in that famous Treble-winning year of 1999.

In 2003 he signed for Real Madrid where he spent four years winning the La Liga championship in his final season before joining LA Galaxy. His five-year spell in America included a mid-season loan spell with AC Milan in 2009. He finally left the States to join Paris Saint-Germain in 2013 where he bows out at the top after winning the French League.

Beckham’s international career saw him win 115 caps for England between 1996 and 2009, including six years as captain. Twice runner-up for the FIFA World Player of the Year, he was the world’s highest-paid footballer in 2004 when his commercial earnings boosted his salary at Real Madrid.

From Sportsnight and the World Cup to Dancing on Ice Tony Gubba was my role model

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Tony hit the big time when he followed David Coleman into the presenter's seat at Sportsnight

Tony hit the big time when he followed David Coleman into the presenter’s seat at Sportsnight


It was the autumn of 1991 and I was checking into Edinburgh Airport with Frank Bough, former England captain Steve Smith and the rest of the ITV Sport team returning from a Rugby World Cup match at Murrayfield. In the distance was a familiar figure walking towards us carrying a sports bag and his fishing gear. It was Tony Gubba.

By pure coincidence, my uncle was on the same flight back to Heathrow and he was just as surprised by this unexpected welcome party as we were to see what he was trying to check in as hand luggage. The sports bag was unzipped and packed with ice to keep fresh the huge salmon he had caught that afternoon. One of Tony’s great passions was fishing and while we had been at the game, Tony was relaxing on a quiet riverbank .

This surreal scene took an unexpected twist when the check-in staff insisted the salmon was not permitted on the flight because “transporting dead animals as hand luggage was not permitted.”  But that of course was red rag to a bull. And typical of one of the most resourceful sports journalists and broadcasters of his generation, our Tony weaved his magic and managed to find a way to get his catch on board and safety home to Berkshire.

It was a tribute from his old pal John Motson, speaking after the tragic news broke that Tony had passed away at the age of 69, that reminded me of this amusing episode.

“What I like most about Tony and it worked in my favour many times was his sheer determination and persistence. He would never take no for an answer,” recalls Motty.

“In 1974 he and I went to our first World Cup in what was then West Germany. And of course the wall was still there and West Germany were about to play East Germany in a highly political match. And on the plane over Tony said ‘I’m going to do my first piece walking along the Berlin Wall.’ And I said don’t be ridiculous there will be guns on one side and he said ‘Don’t worry. I will do it’  and he managed to get permission to walk along the wall and do this piece to camera.”

Three World Cups later, the two buddies were both commentating again at Mexico 86 and Motty paints an even more exotic picture when he remembers: “Tony said we are going to have to go and watch the Russians play you know. And I said they haven’t got any warm up games and he said yes they’ve got one private game. It’s about 240 miles away. And he named the place. And I said how are we going to get there and he said I’m going to hire a plane.

“He went out and got a 4-seater plane. And the two of us on our own with the pilot went to this place in the middle of Mexico. When we got there there were some very stern Russian officials saying you can’t come in. This is a private friendly and Tony sort of said something about the BBC and the guy said well you better come in and go and sit on the touchline with the coaches.”

Whether it was requisitioning an aeroplane to pursue a story, risking personal danger to film a classic piece of video or using his charming powers of persuasion to get his own way, this was who I looked up to and wanted to be like.

When I was a kid growing up in the late 60s and early 70s,Tony was the ultimate role model for me because I wanted to follow in his footsteps. Not just because he was living the dream with a career in the media, he always seemed to have a beautiful sports car and a never ending procession of glamorous admirers.

Commentated at every FIFA World Cup from 1974 to 2006

Commentated at every FIFA World Cup from 1974 to 2006

I remember when Tony made the switch from newspapers to TV, leaving the Daily Mirror in Manchester to head to the South Coast and a job with Southern TV. It was a long drive to his new home in Southampton and I loved it when he took me there for visits during the school holidays. He was not impressed when I got car sick the first time we made that trip. But it was all good character building and watching his career take off was a great inspiration.

It was not long before the switch from ITV to BBC and it was only a matter of time before Tony made it into the wonderful world of sports broadcasting. I was bursting with pride when he was chosen to present Sportsnight after David Coleman left the programme in 1972. I can’t imagine how thrilled he must have been. Tony had hit the big time and no one deserved it more than he did.  He later became the frontman for Grandstand, alongside Frank Bough, the man I would get to work with myself a couple of decades later, and he also presented Match of the Day, where he made his name as an outstanding football commentator.

For many football fans of my generation, we grew up listening to John Motson, Barry Davies and Tony Gubba doing the commentary on MOTD.

Along with my father, his older brother Ron, uncle Tony got me hooked on Manchester United. And I will always remember how a BBC camera picked out his celebration on the pitch behind the goal when Norman Whiteside famously won the 1985 FA Cup Final for United’s 10-men in a dramatic injury time against Everton.

Less than 10 years later I had the honour of working with my uncle when Visionsport International – the independent production company I set up after leaving ITV started filming Premier League football. With Tony often the commentator at matches where we supplied the host broadcast coverage, one of the highlights for both of us was when my uncle provided the commentary and we supplied the coverage of Manchester United’s record 9-0 win against Ipswich Town at Old Trafford. There were many occasions when that familiar voice provided the soundtrack to our pictures.

Sportsnight editor Jonathan Martin, who later became head of sport at the BBC, summed up Tony’s qualities that earned him his place in the hot seat vacated by Coleman when he said: “His strength was that he was a very good broadcaster and journalist. He was mainly a football man to start with, and that was his real love, but he was very flexible. He could turn his hand to anything. Bobsleigh, table tennis, ice-skating, ski jumping, rowing … He would be on everybody’s team for the winter and summer Olympics. He never complained or grumbled when he was asked to do something, he just went away and did his homework. He could present, commentate and was a first-class reporter.”

But Tony was a natural entertainer who was always destined to get a taste of showbusiness. A talented singer, who enrolled at the Northern music college with thoughts of becoming an operatic tenor, he once dressed up as Pavarotti and gave an outstanding rendition on David Baddiel and Frank Skinner’s cult TV show Fantasy Football.  It suited him down to the ground, although he initially turned down the role, when Christopher Dean and Jayne Torvill personally chose him to be the commentator on ITV’s Dancing on Ice. His tongue in cheek commentary was always one of the highlights of one of the most popular shows on ITV. Classic lines like “He skates like Benny Hill chasing a chorus girl” when describing Kieran Bracken and “He’s not normally this active before midnight” in a respectful tease of Lee Sharpe, the ex-footballer with a playboy reputation, earned him a new legion of fans.

Along with the rest of the Gubba family, I felt devastated when the end came so suddenly on 11 March 2013, just a few short weeks after he was diagnosed with leukaemia. My heart goes out to his beautiful daughters Claire and Libby and his partner of the past 15 years, Jenny. But the memories will live on forever. And if you would like to help fight the cancer that killed one of the great voices of the past 40 years please visit this site Memory Giving

Lionel Messi and Barcelona are re-defining the beautiful game with their own breathtaking version of fantasy football

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Magical Messi the undisputed No.1 is staking his claim as the best ever

Messi the undisputed No.1 is staking claim as the best ever - he even makes great commercials


Watching Barcelona at the top of their game is always a special treat to savour – and when the world’s best player Lionel Messi is in the groove we are talking fantasy football.

Still only 24, Catalonia’s adopted Argentinian is not only the undisputed No.1 player on the planet, he is strengthening his claim to be the greatest of all time with each passing year.

The way Barca destroyed Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League tonight with a breathtaking 7-1 demolition that completed a 10-2 aggregate win was an awesome display, crowned by Messi at his mesmeric best. The maestro’s five goals were a record for the competition and took his tally to 14 in his last five outings for club and country.

Last May, when we saw the Catalans raise the bar with an imperious victory over Manchester United in the Final, a virtuoso performance by the pint-sized magician inspired me to write “still only 23, Messi is the already arguably the greatest player the world has ever seen.” The truth is he is still several years shot of the age when footballers are traditionally considered to be at their peak.

No wonder Franz Beckenbauer predicts Messi can reinforce Barca’s status as the best team arguably of any generation by becoming the first side to retain the trophy since the ­ introduction of the Champions League format.

Germany’s World Cup winning skipper, who lifted the European Cup three times with Bayern Munich in the mid-1970s, said: “Messi is a genius. He has ­everything. When I watch him, I see a player who is very, very, skilful, very clever – and his left foot is like Diego ­Maradona’s.

“The difference is Messi is also like Bobby Charlton. He is a nice man, he’s a gentleman. You will never hear from him telling you bad things about this or that.”

‘Der Kaiser” – whose beloved Bayern Munich side hope to join Barca in the quarter-finals – concedes: ­“Barcelona are the best team in the world. Almost perfect.

“If you see them play, they are fantastic. Of course they are not unbeatable, we have seen that, but in general they are not only the best team but one of the most spectacular teams in the world. I believe they are right up there with the great teams of the past, Real Madrid, Johan Cruyff’s Ajax and my Bayern.”

Why on earth coach Pep Guardiola would even consider leaving Barcelona, who have the opportunity to dominate the game for years to come, is beyond me.


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Boring boring England are world champion underachievers

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Let’s be honest, whether we are talking association football or rugby football, England are not only boring to watch but pathetic underachievers.

Even when they win, as England’s rugby union stars did at Murrayfield this evening to give interim coach Stuart Lancaster a winning start against Scotland, it rarely gets the pulses racing. Not if we are talking about entertainment that is.

It was spot on when New Zealand’s former All Blacks’ coach Graham Henry described England as “the world champions of wasting talent” who play “a game based on fear” and failing to build on the success of winning the 2003 World Cup.

Rather than dwell on the irony of the Kiwis being the biggest underachievers in Rugby World Cup history – they even came close to blowing it on home soil when they narrowly pipped France to the Webb  Ellis Trophy a few months ago – the honest truth is that Henry is right.

Fear is the word that haunts England’s stars of both the beautiful game and the oval ball version. There was nothing to get excited about as a wasteful Scotland were beaten 6-13. It was the Scots who played the most entertaining rugby, their fightback undone when they were denied a try from Greg Laidlaw by the Television Match Official ruling the fly-half had failed to touch down.

Apart from Euro 96 when Terry Venables produced an entertaining England side that outclassed Holland’s total footballers and the one-off in 2001 when Sven Goran Eriksson oversaw an unbelievable 5-1 win in Germany, what have our international footballers done to be proud of since 1966?

It was shocking to see the way our overpaid, over-rated footballers failed to live up to all the hype and expectation at the last FIFA World Cup in South Africa. But will anyone be surprised if the same thing happens at Euro 2012 this summer?

At least the FA have had the wisdom to side-step the inevitable criticism that would have dragged England down if they had not stripped John Terry of the England captaincy. Guilty or not there is no way we could go into a major tournament with the possibility that our skipper could become a convicted racist within days of the tournament ending.

Sadly, the opportunity to replace Fabio Capello with England’s finest manager Harry Redknapp was trashed by the Inland Revenue’s claim that the Spurs boss is a tax cheat. Even if Redknapp is cleared it is too late for  the FA to ditch underachiever Capello, and can anyone imagine England making us proud of the way we play the game with the Italian pulling the strings?

Fear of failure will almost certainly haunt our footballers at the Euro Finals in Poland and Ukraine.







Mick McCarthy absolutely right! Fans of the beautiful game don’t want to see football turned into a non-contact sport

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Mick McCarthy’s passionate defence of wronged midfielder Nenad Milijas is in the best interests of the beautiful game.

The Wolves player was sent off in the 1-1 draw against Arsenal despite winning the ball as McCarthy has clearly demonstrated.

But there is a lot more at stake here than a bad refereeing decision. We are talking about whether or not we want to kill the art of tackling.

While I am not advocating a return to the brutal days – when hardmen like Chopper Harris, Norman Hunter and Nobby Stiles ruled the roost – we must beware not to turn the game into a non contact sport.

McCarthy is absolutely right when he says: “I think the fabric of the British game is based on people tackling.”

And I agree whole-heartedly when the Wolves boss adds: “That’s why people come and watch because it’s exciting because people are tackled. It’s part of our game.”

Mick McCarthy points out the Milijas was first to the ball

Mick McCarthy points out the Milijas was first to the ball



December 30th, 2011 at 8:46 pm

BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award an insult to women

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The disgraceful failure to include any women in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year shortlist has devalued the worth of winning this year’s award.

It is the first time since the format was changed in 2006 – to voting for a top 10 selected by a panel of sports editors – that no women have been included. And it is not because there are no candidates worthy of consideration.

Rebecca Adlington's tweets express dismay at the twits who overlooked our top women

Rebecca Adlington's tweets express dismay at the twits who overlooked our top women

As Rebecca Adlington, one of those to miss out, commented on twitter: “There’s been some great sportswomen like Keri-Anne Payne, it’s sad they are not recognised.”

Lord Coe, winner of the award in 1979, expressed his surprise when he said: “We have had Rebecca Adlington winning a world title in the world swimming championships, we have had other women world champions this year too.”

The problem is just 2 percent of media coverage goes to women’s sport and we have an old-fashioned breed of newspaper sports editors who are out of touch with modern society.

Karen Pickering, the BBC commentator and former world champion swimmer, confirmed as much when she told BBC Radio 5 Live:”It does indicate how sport is viewed in this country. It is very male-orientated; it’s written for men to read.”

But some newspaper editors have simply lost the plot. The Manchester Evening News bizarely included Dimitar Berbatov, Yaya Toure and Patrick Vieira in their nomination. Sports editor Peter Spencer tried to defend his nomination of Vieira by stating he “has lived in this country for well over a decade. He’s done some grand work for City on the community side of things. I think he’s a great ambassador.”

Looking at the list of 10 nominations my vote goes to the David Beckham of the cycling world Mark Cavendish.

The contenders (in alphabetical order): Mark Cavendish (cycling), Darren Clarke (golf), Alastair Cook (cricket), Luke Donald (golf), Mo Farah (athletics), Dai Greene (athletics), Amir Khan (boxing), Rory McIlroy (golf), Andy Murray (tennis), Andrew Strauss (cricket).

Reaction to Billy Sharp’s ‘goals from heaven’ for baby son Luey Jacob reminds us why football is the beautiful game

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It is not often these days that football fans applaud goals scored against their own team – but last week’s strikes by Billy Sharp against Middlesbrough and Ipswich were universally celebrated by everyone who loves the beautiful game.

When the Doncaster Rovers striker struck home an unbelievable effort against Boro just 72 hours after the death of his two day-old son Luey Jacob it was no exaggeration from opposition manager Tony Mowbray to describe it is as “the goal from heaven”.

"That's for you son" - Billy Sharp's emotional tribute

“That’s for you son” – Billy Sharp’s emotional tribute

It was a touching tribute from Mowbray, who suffered heartbreak himself in losing his wife Bernadette to breast cancer, and it was marvellous to hear the Boro boss say he was actually pleased Billy had scored, even though it was against his team.

Just as heart-warming was the reaction of referee Darren Deadman who showed great commonsense in not booking him for revealing a T-shirt with the message ‘That’s for you son’. It took guts to ignore FIFA’s draconian book of rules.

To see that followed up by the genuine applause of Ipswich Town supporters when Billy netted again in Rovers’ 3-2 win at Portman Road on Saturday was a wonderful tribute not just to Luey Jacob – but the whole football family.


Fireworks from Mario Balotelli as City prove too hot to handle – but how will Reds respond to worst ever Premier League defeat?

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Click to buy DVD

Click to buy DVD


When Mario Balotelli accidentally set his house on fire by letting off a firework in the early hours of Saturday morning the damage was minimal. But 24 hours later the unpredictable Italian striker created the kind of havoc that will earn him cult status among Manchester City fans.

Two opening goals from Balotelli sent City on their way to a crushing 6-1 defeat of Manchester United at Old Trafford that will send shock waves not just around the Premier League, but the whole of Europe. His cheeky gesture after scoring his first was to reveal a t-shirt bearing the slogan “Why Always Me?” that will only add fuel to the adulation that Balotelli cherishes.

Whatever the impact of a red card for Jonny Evans when United trailed 1-nil early in the second half, there was no avoiding the fact that City were the worthy winners on the day. And Roberto Mancini’s men have made a powerful statement about their ability to challenge United’s supremacy and win their first Premier League title. But let’s not carried away by one bad day for United.

Great Goals on DVD

Great Goals on DVD

The team that crushed Arsenal 8-2 only a few weeks ago when they also demolished Spurs and Chelsea have not suddenly become a bad team overnight. Neither have City – outclassed by Bayern Munich in the Champions League a short while aho – suddenly become world beaters.

It is results like these that makes football the most exciting game in the world,  and the Premier League the most watched competition on the planet.

The big question now is ‘How will United respond to this challenge for their title as Champions of England?’ Only at the end of the season will we have our answer.

But Sir Alex Ferguson – who conceded his side played “suicidal football” as they chased to get back into the game has already promised “there will be a response to that”.

Meanwhile, City boss Roberto Mancini, who admitted “the sending off changed everything” insisted: “We have to continue to improve – we have only played nine games. There is a long way to go”

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Better than Ronaldo? There is something about Nani . . .

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Portugal's finest? Luis Nani is maturing into one of the world's best players

Portugal’s finest? Luis Nani is maturing into one of the world’s best players


Like it or not Luis Nani is going to be compared to Cristiano Ronaldo every time he does something special – and the way the 24-year-old Portuguese boy wonder is maturing into a world class performer that is going be a regular occurence.

The truth is Nani can do most things Ronaldo can do and then some. And the stats show he is a better team player than his fellow countryman was in his first 100 Premier League games for Manchester United . . . both scoring 19 times but Nani has nearly three times as many assists.

Nani does not like being compared to his former team-mate and you have to respect United’s current Portuguese superstar for wanting to be judged as an individual. He certainly deserves the right to be revered as one of the game’s outstanding talents.

100 up - and Nani's record is more than a match for Ronaldo

100 up – and Nani’s record is more than a match for Ronaldo. Special thanks to Sky Sports

Since marking his 100th Premier League game with an awesome strike in United’s 3-1 demolition of Chelsea, Nani unloaded another stunning strike that earned a point at Stoke City this evening. But it is his all round contribution that is really starting to get noticed. And his growing maturity is great news both for Manchester United and Portugal.

Watch out for upcoming news about my new film with Nani coming soon


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With Rio urging twits to behave it was poetic to see Giggs remind us there is no substitute for experience in Champions League

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Ryan Giggs - only Ruud Van Nistelrooy has scored more European goals for United

Ryan Giggs - only Ruud van Nistelrooy has scored more European goals for United


While the kids of Manchester United have taken the Premier League by storm with a breathtaking start to the season, it was fascinating to see Sir Alex Ferguson bank on experience in the Champions League opener at Benfica.

It is United’s 16th consecutive season in the world’s biggest club competition and Fergie has always said there is no substitute for experience on the European stage.

When ‘old man’ Ryan Giggs surged forward three minutes before the interval and hammered home an exquisite strike to make it 1-1, you could imagine United’s 69 year-old boss thinking ‘I got it right again boys!’

Minutes earlier, with United looking second best and trailing to a wonder strike from Cardozo, cyberspace was awash with worried fans urging the boss to make changes.

Man City went behind at home to Napoli but ended their Champions League debut with a 1-1 draw

Man City went behind at home to Napoli but ended their Champions League debut with a 1-1 draw

The lone tweeter urging patience was the injured Rio Ferdinand watching back home who told all the twits to behave.

“No need to panic all of you on here. We have been here before. Re-group and play our football and we’ll make chances,” promised Rio. And what do you know, moments later Giggs had the ball in the back of the net, prompting Ferdinand to quip. “Did he just read my last tweet!”

In all seriousness, United fans should know better than to doubt the gaffer – and no one should doubt the strength of this outstanding squad of players.

Only Wayne Rooney, Patrice Evra and Jonny Evans kept their places in the line up that started against Bolton at the weekend, as Fergie made eight changes.

Anders Lindegaard made a couple of  excellent second half saves. But Fergie put the mischief makers in their place when he said: “It was a good performance by Anders. But David De Gea will play on Sunday against Chelsea – nothing has changed.”



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