Don’t play games behind closed doors. Price out the thugs.

West Ham United’s move to the London Stadium (the stadium that hosted the ceremonies and the athletics at the 2012 Olympics) has not exactly started well. Until they won successive home games this week against Sunderland and Chelsea the club had struggled to make the stadium feel like home. Now they are not the first club nor will they be last to struggle at a new home – Southampton when they moved to St Mary’s in 2001 being a classic example – but there is something more sinister here. 

In most of West Ham’s home games since the move to the London Stadium there has been crowd trouble – even against the likes of Bournemouth, Watford and Middlesborough which are not usually fixtures that are associated with crowd trouble. So when West Ham were drawn against London rivals Chelsea in the EFL (League) Cup fourth round it was feared that there would be crowd trouble. The fears were justified. 

Seats, coins and bottles were thrown during ugly clashes between West Ham and Chelsea fans on Wednesday. One Chelsea fan had blood pouring from his head after allegedly getting hit by a coin while eight year old children were among those who were struck. There was also a leaflet distributed before the game about Chelsea player John Terry which encouraged homophobic chants. All in all it was as if we had hurtled back 40 years in time to the 1970s when this nonsense was common. 

To no one’s surprise an investigation has been launched (it’s what we Brits do best!). Also typically SIX different organisations – West Ham, Chelsea, the Football League (FL), the Football Association (FA), the Metropolitan Police and the stadium operators -are joining in this enquiry. And also typically two Conservative MPs – Mark Field and Damian Collins – have chipped in saying that if the bad behaviour continues West Ham should be made to play home games behind closed doors if bad behaviour continues. But they are wrong. 

First of all why close the ground when it is clear that the pond life that is causing this nonsense is a tiny minority of West Ham fans? Then factor in the fact that the fans of whatever team West Ham might be playing in any future behind closed door games are innocent. They haven’t taken part in any trouble why should they be punished? Remember UEFA did that to innocent Manchester City fans in the 2014-15 Champions League while punishing CSKA Moscow for racist behaviour. Punishing innocent fans is like throwing the baby out with the bath water. It is unnecessary. 

I’ve got two solutions. One uncontroversial one  controversial. Try punishing the guilty not the innocent. There is CCTV at the London Stadium as there is at other grounds. The authorities should identify the cretins who misbehaved on Wednesday and ban them from every ground in the UK for life. No if not buts no second chances. If the law does not allow that the Government should change it. If Field and Collins want to do something useful they can pressurise the Government to make this change if the law does not allow life bans.

My second plan won’t be popular. Because the London Stadium has a capacity of 60,010 far more than their old ground Upton Park (35,016) West Ham cut their ticket prices. Now that makes sense – except I reckon it is the cutting of prices that has caused the hooliganism. Popular opinion thinks that the behaviour of fans has improved since the bad old days of the 1970s and 80s. But I don’t. I suspect that the hooligans were always there -it is just that the move to all seater stadiums and the rise in prices that caused priced the hooligans out of the game and now that prices at West Ham have gone down the yobs have returned. To back me up I don’t recall trouble inside Upton Park last season (the Manchester United team bus was pelted with bottles and coins at West Ham’s last ever game at Upton Park but that was outside the ground). Maybe it is a coincidence that trouble at West Ham has gone up when prices have gone down but it is an awfully big coincidence.

That doesn’t mean prices should go up for everybody. We know it is young men who mainly cause trouble at football matches. So keep cheap admission prices for children, families and pensioners. But prices for adults going on their own and for groups of young men should go up. It would be unfair and in the ideal world should not need to happen. But until men learn to behave themselves at football that is a price they will have to pay. Sure West Ham might not fill their stadium if they do that. But if they don’t and trouble continues at the London Stadium the football authorities might – despite my opinion – force West Ham to play in front of no fans at all. And that will be far far worse for them….
  

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Mick Foley’s RAW promo & benevolent sexism

Girl Talk with Gabby

Hey, guys. Did you know I’m a woman? I know, I know, shocking. Well, as a woman, I have a plethora of life experiences that have shaped the person I am today. I have been groped by a stranger in public. I have been patronized and looked down on because of my gender. Why am I saying this? Well, because sexism is a reality in my life that I am aware of with every breath I take. And that reality has spurred me to write about what I saw on RAW tonight.

I’ll cut to the chase: when Mick Foley began to passionately beg Sasha and Charlotte to reconsider their historic Hell in a Cell match on Monday Night RAW, I was horrified.

Mick Foley has long been a supporter of the women’s divisions on both shows. He has voiced support for the women of WWE for years. He is…

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Recalling the Cubs last NLCS Game Six 

Saturday could be a historic night in Chicago – to put it mildly. Last night the Chicago Cubs defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-4 to take a 3-2 lead in the best of seven National League Championship Series. The series moves to Wrigley Field on Saturday with the Cubs needing one win to do the unthinkable – reach the World Series for the first time since 1945 (the franchise has not won the World Series since 1908 – which must be a world record barren spell never mind a record in US sport.) The atmosphere at Wrigley will be incredible the tension unbelievable. But the Cubs and their fans will know that recent history is against them…

October 2003 was a strange time. Italian Serie A men’s team Perugia were trying to sign a woman (no seriously), WWE chairman Mr McMahon fought his own daughter Stephanie in a father v daughter “I Quit” match (no seriously), and UK Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith was overthrown by his party before he could lead it in a General Election (a first in post war UK politics). The Cubs meanwhile were 3-2 up in the 2003 National League Championship Series against the Florida – now Miami – Marlins needing one win to get to the World Series – the same position as they are in right now. What happened next has gone into infamy. 

For seven innings all went well. The Cubs were 2-0 up in the middle of the seventh with Mark Prior showing why he had been the Cubs best pitcher all year. During the seventh-inning stretch Chicago celebrity – and ironically a Chicago White Sox fan – Bernie Mac sung “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” but instead of singing “Let’s Root for the Cubbies” he sung “Let’s Root for the Champs”. Some Cubs fans feared that he was tempting fate but an insurance run in the bottom of the seventh and an out at the start of the eighth left the Cubs five outs away from the World Series. Juan Pierre then hit a double for the Marlins but still no trouble right…

There wasn’t no trouble. In fact there was a lot of trouble. And it started with one of the most infamous plays in baseball. Batter Luis Castillo hit a foul ball to the left field wall. Cubs fielder Moises Alou went for the ball…but unfortunately Cubs fan Steve Bartman stuck out his hand and deflected the ball away from Alou. This meant it counted as a foul not an out and Castillo continued his at bat. Still no problem. Well they wouldn’t have been if Alou didn’t show his frustration at not getting the catch.

And after that play came one of the most spectacular implosions in all of sport never mind baseball. Prior’s next pitch to Castillo was a wild pitch that walked Castillo and let Pierre go to third. Ivan Rodriguez then hit an RBI single to put the Marlins first run on the board. Still no problem. Future MVP Miguel Cabrera then ground the ball to short stop Alex Gonzalez which shouldould have produced at least one out and probably an inning ending double play. Instead he fumbled it and everyone was safe leaving the bases loaded.

Now the wheels really came off. Here is how the rest of the horror show of an inning unfolded: 

Derrek Lee hit a two RBI double tying the game and chasing Prior from the mound.

New pitcher Kyle Farnsworth issues an intentional walk.

A sacrifice fly that gave the Marlins the lead and put Prior in line for the loss. 

Another intentional walk which loaded the bases yet again. 

A three RBI double from Mike Mordecai that cleared the bases and blew the game open putting the Marlins 7-3 up and ending Farnsworth’s night. 

Pierre gets his second hit of the inning off new pitcher Mike Remlinger to score Mordecai and make it 8-3.

And finally Castillo who could have been the second out of the inning in his first at bat pops out to end the inning from hell. The score went from 3-0 Cubs to 8-3 Marlins.

And the series was to all practical purposes over. The shell shocked Cubs still had six outs left but couldn’t score. The series was tied 3-3 and there was a seventh game at Wrigley with Cubs second best pitcher Kerry Wood pitching but I never thought the Cubs would win. And although they went 5-3 up after being 0-3 down – including a two run homer from pitcher Wood – they still lost not to my surprise 9-6. The dream was over. Again. 

Obviously the press and fans in Chicago were not happy. So who do you blame? The logical thing would be to blame the whole team since they were 3-1 up but collapsed. You could blame Prior for the wild pitch, Gonzalez for the error, Farnsworth for not getting any outs apart from the sac fly that was a still a RBI. The whole team lost their bottle. 

Of course they blamed none of those. They blamed Bartman. Even though the ESPN programme “Catching Hell”showed plenty of other fans were sticking their hands out too. Even though the Cubs subsequently had chances to get out of the inning poor Bartman copped the flack. Once the fans found out who had caught the ball – he was lucky Wrigley did not have a Jumbotron otherwise it would have happened much quicker than it did – the fans at Wrigley chanted “Asshole” at him and pointed him out. He had to be escorted from the park along with his two friends and he was pelted with debris and had beer over him. It was ugly and it was shameful. Florida Governer Jeb Bush – brother of future US President George W Bush – offered him asylum while Illinois Governer Rob Blagojevic said if Barman ever committed a crime he would not get a pardon from this Governer (ironically Blagojevic was inpeached on corruption charges and forced to resign – poetic justice). It was not good. The only people who defended Bartman were the 13-14 year old boys in the Little League team the Renegades that he coached. 

Apart from the Renegades the only man who came out of this mess with any credit was Bartman himself. He declined interviews rewards from Marlins fans and offers of $25000 for an autograph and $100000 to appear in a Super Bowl commercial. He apologised (though he shouldn’t have) didn’t make any money out of his “error” and conducted himself with dignity. Sadly but understandably he has never been to Wrigley Field since. But he responded far more better than the fans who should have blamed the players since it was their job to win the game and it was them who lost their bottle so spectacularly. 

So can the 2016 Cubs succeed where the 2003 team failed? It’s likely but not a certainty. The two Dodger starting pitchers that they will face – the world’s best pitcher Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill – both helped to shut out the Cubs in Games two and three. And then they have the curse of 1908 to deal with. But this is a far better team than 2003.They had the best record in the Majors this year. I suspect they will hold their nerve but it will be fun to find out (unless you’re a Cubs fan).

I have one wish. If the Cubs beat the Dodgers then go on to beat the Cleveland Indians – who themselves have not won the World Series since 1948 – to win the World Series I hope Steve Bartman will turn up at Wrigley at the start of next year just like the Red Sox 1986 scapegoat Bill Buckner turned up at Fenway Park at the start of the 2008 season. The Cubs 2003 collapse was not Steve Bartman’s fault. He does not owe Chicago anything. Instead Chicago owes him. Maybe if the Cubs succeed where they failed in 2003 – or even better win the World Series – the rapprochement between Bartman and the city of Chicago can begin. I certainly hope so.

Why a women’s Hell in a Cell match is a good idea

The women’s revolution in the WWE – which has been progressing in fits and starts – has received a couple of boosts in the last two weeks. First of all Sasha Banks won the RAW women’s title from Charlotte in the 3rd October episode of RAW. While this had happened before back on July 25th this time the match was the main event of RAW. This is only the second time a match between two women* had main evented RAW – the last one was when Lita beat Trish Stratus on December 6th 2004. And although RAW’s ratings still fell in the third hour (the third hour of RAW is a total disaster and needs to disappear) the ratings fell less with the women main eventing than they had in previous weeks. The match was well received and was seen as a success. But the women had main evented RAW before.

What happened this week is historic though. On Monday’s RAW it was announced that Banks would defend her title against Charlotte at the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view on October 30th. What makes this unique is that Banks and Charlotte will compete in the match the pay-per-view is named after : Hell in a Cell.

The first Hell in a Cell match took place between Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker on October 5th 1997. The match takes place inside a 20ft high, five ton cage and is considered the most dangerous structure in the WWE. It has been called “Satan’s Structure” and “Career shortening”.  There have been 33 Hell in a Cell matches since 1997 all involving male competitors. So when the Banks v Charlotte Hell in a Cell match was announced on RAW it was a big deal. 

I should point out that rumours that the match would happen had been leaked on the internet last Wednesday. I saw three internet polls during the week and they all showed 80-90 percent support for the women’s Hell in a Cell match. While internet polls are even more unreliable than their offline equivalents three polls with this level of support suggested clear support among the Internet Wrestling Community (IWC) for the match. It also suggested that the IWC who often are as divided as the Conservative Party was in 1997 and the Labour Party are now had found something we** could unite behind.

Except that after the match was announced the schizophrenic IWC seemed to change their minds and a backlash against the match begun. People were saying that the match was too dangerous for women and that Charlotte and – especially – Banks were in danger of being injured. Now there are two other Hell in a Cell matches scheduled for October 30th between Universal Champion Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins and between United States Champion Roman Reigns and Rusev. No one says that the four men are at risk of injury even though Rollins injury record is arguably worse than Banks is. It is also argued that the feud between Banks and Charlotte is not worthy of a Hell in a Cell match even though they have been feuding on and off – mainly on – since the Royal Rumble in January far longer than either of the two male feuds that will end in the Cell. Frankly in a world where UK female soldiers will soon be allowed on the front line by a Conservative Government – unthinkable as recently as 2012 – the idea that two women cannot fight in a cage is ludicrous. If women can fight on the front line they can fight in Hell in a Cell. It is sexism pure and simple. 

So why are people so opposed to the match? Eileen McDonough and Laura Pappano have the answer. They mention the “three I’s” that have been used throughout history to deny women equality – Inferiority, Injury and Immorality. All three are being used here. People are saying that Banks and Charlotte are “inferior” and unworthy of a Hell in a Cell match. They are worried that they will suffer injury. And they think women taking part in this violent match is immoral.  And it is utter nonsense. 

The WWE like to think they compete with real sports which is I suspect why they have a deal with US Sports giants ESPN. In most real sports men and women compete in the same events with mainly the same rules. If WWE want to properly support the Women’s Revolution they have to put women in the same matches as men as this happens in real sport. It is only a baby step no doubt about it. There are still other matches that women have not competed in – Tables, Ladders and Chairs matches, Money in the Bank matches, their own Royal Rumble*** and even the Elimination Chamber. But this is the start. 

I will be nervous when Sasha and Charlotte step into the Cell on October 30th. Like Ginny Baker in the fictional “Pitch” (see previous post) the pressure will be enormous. I bet you they will be scrutinised far more than Owen, Rollins. Reigns and Rusev will be. But that is the price of being the pioneer. Banks knows this having been part of – along with Bayley – the first ever 30 minute “Iron Woman” match in NXT last year. Cynics thought women could not wrestle for thirty minutes straight. Banks and Bayley proved that that was nonsense. 

Back to real sport for a moment. After the 1928 Olympics women were banned from running distances longer than 200 metres and the ban stood for 32 years. Women were not allowed to run the Marathon at the Olympics until 1984. Today the idea that women could not run the Marathon would be seen as a joke. The same will apply to the WWE. Ten, twenty years from now wrestling fans will be saying “That Sasha v Charlotte Hell in a Cell match was amazing wasn’t it?”. Ten, twenty years from now women’s Hell in a Cell matches will be taken for granted and accepted (they won’t be common as they aren’t common for men today). And the fact that women were not allowed to compete in Hell in a Cell matches until nineteen years after the men will be seen as ridiculous not as is the case today the fact that they are competing in one. The women’s Hell in a Cell match is an idea whose time has come. In truth it should have happened before now.

*Lita v Stephanie McMahon main evented RAW in August 2000 but the Rock was guest referee and Kurt Angle and Triple H also got involved.

**I don’t consider myself a member of the IWC but the fact I talk and read about wrestling on the internet might mean some people consider me part of it. 

***A woman competed in the men’s Royal Rumble in 1999,2000,,2010 and 2012 but there has never been a women’s Royal Rumble. 

Pitch perfect?

An interesting new TV series started a couple of weeks ago on Fox in America. While I am not going to review the programme – it hasn’t been shown on UK TV yet and I don’t know if it ever will be – it fascinated me because of the subject matter. 

The programme is called “Pitch” and the main protagonist in the programme is Ginny Baker. Ginny makes history when she becomes the first woman to play in Major League Baseball (MLB). The character plays for the San Diego Padres (which some people might see as a punishment rather than a reward). She is a starting pitcher who overcomes her lack of ability to throw 90 mph by perfecting a rarely used pitch the screwball which people have said could get a woman into the Majors. Now as I haven’t seen the programme I’m not commenting on whether or not the programme is any good (although I hope they don’t take the clichéd route of having heroine Ginny fall in love and have an affair with one of her teammates or her team’s manager. Trust me I’ve seen it too often). But what of Pitch’s central thesis? Could a woman really play in the Majors?

First thing I’ll say is that unlike the Premier League in the UK there must be nothing in the rules of baseball or the law of the US that would prohibit a woman playing in the big leagues since MLB have co produced Pitch and allowed the show full access to the Padres’ ballpark, logo and facilities. The programme has the backing of MLB. So with that said is Ginny’s story believable? I’d say no for a couple of reasons. 

First of all Ginny seems to be a one pitch pony namely the screwball. As the not happy guy who loses his place on the roster to Ginny says the 29 other professional teams will be trying to figure out her trick pitch and when they do he will get his job back and she will become the answer to a trivia question. Now a one pitch pitcher can thrive and even dominate in the Majors. The classic example being the greatest closer of all time Mariano Rivera. People said his only pitch was the cut fastball. But it was good enough to keep him in the Majors for nineteen seasons and earned him a record 652 saves which suggests that even if batters knew what was coming most of them still didn’t have a clue how to hit it. But he was a closer. I doubt very much a one pitch pitcher makes it as a starter as she would have to throw to batters two or three times in a game if she was a starter. So I think a female screwball pitcher would be more realistic as a relief pitcher or a closer – which could confuse batters as it would be a contrast to the 90 mph fastball throwers that appear in the Majors. 

But even if our heroine could be a starter it is still not realistic for her to play for the Padres. The Padres are a National League franchise which means Ginny would have to hit. I really can’t realistically expect a real life Ginny to do anything against Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner and Zack Greinke…and that scary trio is just the elite pitching in the Padres own division  never mind the likes of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Stephen Strausburg, Max Scherzer, Matt Harvey, Jason de Grom and Noah Syndergaard that roam the National League’s other divisions. It is more likely that if a woman was to become a MLB starter it would be in the American League where with the Designated Hitter rule she would not have to hit. So if a female pitcher was to reach MLB it in my opinion would either be as an AL starter or a relief pitcher.

But the main reason I can’t see a woman in the Majors anytime soon is because of a lack of opportunity. As I’ve written before since 1974 girls have been eligible to play Little League – but most of them play softball. But the problem is that women’s baseball beyond Little League barely exists so any girl who wants to play baseball at High School has to join a boy’s team where she might not exactly be welcome to say the least. After High School it becomes worse. Only one woman has got a college scholarship for baseball and that was earlier this year when pitcher Sarah Hudek was awarded a baseball scholarship at Bossier Community College in Houston. No wonder girls turn to softball where they can get scholarships. No wonder 2014 Little League wunderkind Mo’ne Davis (who I suspect Ginny in Pitch was based on) has chosen basketball instead. After all she can get a scholarship in basketball and a professional career in the WNBA could occur. There is no professional career for her in baseball.

The only way I can see any hope for women making it to the Majors is if softball is rebranded as women’s baseball and the rules become the same (number of innings, style of pitching, distance between bases among other things). Baseball and softball are so totally different that skills cannot be transferred from one to an other. This is not sexism.I remember seeing on TV Major League hitters trying to hit elite softball pitcher Jennie Finch. Most of them didn’t have a clue how to hit her as the pitching was totally different from what they were used to.

So could women be relief pitchers, closers or be like small men like Dee Gordon and José Altuve who don’t contribute many 400 ft home runs but can get on base regularly and use their speed to steal bases? At the moment we do not know because women have never been given a chance to play baseball throughout their formative years. And unless women can play baseball uninterrupted they will never get the baseball education they need in their teenage years that might give them a chance.

Because of the tradition of shall we say girls being “encouraged” to play softball after Little League we do not know what women are capable of doing in baseball. Right now Ginny’s story can only be a fairytale. But if girls are given the chance to play baseball as teenagers, given baseball scholarships like Sarah Hudek has and if a women’s baseball league is ever set up who knows?