Is Murray’s new coach on a hiding to nothing?

The fact that the England football team will now be “home before the postcards” in the World Cup is not just bad news for them. It might also be bad news for Britain’s reigning Wimbledon champion Andy Murray as he begins the defence of his title on Monday (since the UK press will put the spotlight on him now that England are out). He’ll become the first Briton to defend a Wimbledon title since Virginia Wade in 1978 (as a sideline it will be interesting if the UK press acknowledge this fact. Last year when Murray won the title – as Chloe Angyal pointed out on Twitter – the Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail called him the first British Wimbledon champion since 1937 when in fact there were four British female champions since 1937.)
This would seem like nit picking but for an event that has occurred since last year’s Wimbledon. A couple of weeks ago Murray appointed a new coach. She is female – the 2006 Wimbledon Champion Amelie Mauresmo. Needless to say this has made headlines. At first I was shocked but one must remember Murray was coached by his mother in the early stages of his career and so a female coach is not the novelty it would be for the vast majority of ATP players. So far his record under Mauresmo in baseball parlance is .500 (one win one defeat) and to no one’s surprise Mauresmo is taking a lot of stick on social media (none of it will be reproduced here).
People are praising Murray for his bravery but in truth he isn’t the brave one here. Ever since July 7th last year – when he won the Wimbledon title – Murray is a British hero. He always will be. The man who ended 77 years of humiliation for British men at Wimbledon won’t be attacked by the press now. Mauresmo is the brave one. She is the one that is stepping out of her comfort zone. Knowing the British press as I do Mauresmo is on a hiding to nothing. If Murray plays well he’ll get the credit. if he plays badly she’ll get the blame. Not fair? Of course it’s not. If Mauresmo was coaching Britain’s number 1 female Heather Watson it would have got some publicity – ex Wimbledon champion to coach British youngster could be one headline – but it would cause nowhere near as much fuss and if Watson did well Mauresmo would get credit for it. An example from the 2012 Olympics shows this. In the women’s football Final German (female) referee Bibiana Steinhaus missed a US handball so obvious even the US’s two goal heroine Carli Lloyd admitted “it was a clear handball. It hit her (Tobin Heath’s) arm”. It got mentioned a bit in the UK press but if she had refereed the men’s Final and made the same mistake the poor woman would have been hung drawn and quartered for it.
In fact today’s Daily Telegraph backs me up. The headline in Simon Briggs’s article on Wimbledon is “Mauresmo blameless if I lose, says Murray.” It goes without saying that the last time Murray went into a Grand Slam with a new coach – the 2012 Australian Open – he did not say that Ivan Lendl would be blameless if he lost. Mauresmo will not be allowed a honeymoon period like most new appointments get. Just because she’s a woman.
An example from the UK’s past confirms this. The three toughest most high profile jobs in the UK in my opinion are the England (male) football team manager, the England (male) cricket captain and the Prime Minister of the UK. But a new appointment to all three of these jobs gets a honeymoon period where they do not get attacked by the UK’s press and public. Only one of those jobs – Prime Minister – has been done by a woman, namely Margaret Thatcher. Perhaps it is just a coincidence but as David Butler and Dennis Kavanagh wrote about her first government ” The new government’s honeymoon was much shorter than usual.The 7% lead in the general election evaporated within six weeks and by October Labour were 5% ahead in the polls” (The British General Election of 1983 page 14). It might have nothing to do with her gender but it is amazing Thatcher’s honeymoon was far shorter than any other UK Prime Minister.
I really do fear for Mauresmo that Murray will get the credit if it goes well – and that she’ll get the blame if it does not. She could be on a hiding to nothing. Let’s hope the UK press – some of whom still have naked women on Page 3 – prove me wrong. An interesting footnote. Melanie Harvey in the Daily Record wrote that a friend of hers said that all men with half a brain should consider themselves a feminist. Ah so that explains the behaviour of Sepp Blatter and the UK press then!


Sepp Blatter in good idea shocker!

An excellent World Cup so far full of shocks. Who’d have thought we would have had to wait for the thirteenth match for the first 0-0 draw, or that Spain and Portugal would be bottom of their groups and Costa Rica top of theirs? But the most important incident was France’s second goal against Honduras which saw the first use of goal line technology thus confirming that football has finally caught up with the 21st century.
But the biggest surprise happened at the FIFA congress where Sepp Blatter had a good idea. Yes the guy who as British football writer Brian Glanville put it “has 50 ideas before breakfast and 51 are bad” actually had a good one. While it wasn’t “I resign” or “I’m moving the 2022 World Cup to a more suitable venue”(anywhere else in the world would be more suitable) one must be thankful for small mercies. His idea was that managers should be allowed to challenge referee’s decisions twice a game. While he was vague about it – deliberately so? – and it still has to get past the International Football Association Board – an organisation that makes FIFA look progressive – a look at other sports shows the potential impact of Blatter’s plan.
Three sports I’m interested in – baseball cricket and tennis – have all adopted something similar. And despite teething problems the benefits are clear. The tennis system is the easiest to understand as it applies to wither the ball is in or out in close plays. Hawkeye is accurate the system is quick and the McEnroe style tantrums tennis used to be renowned for are history.
The cricket system is more interesting since although it is a team game it is up to the individual player wither or not to challenge the umpire’s call. If a challenge is wrong the team loses a review and it was interesting during last summer’s Ashes to see certain players reviewing all the time mostly being proved wrong and costing their team a review (I’m talking about you Shane Watson and Stuart Broad!). Yet only yesterday – at the end of a thrilling Test between England and Sri Lanka – we saw the system working. Sri Lanka’s last man Nuwan Pradeep was given out. It was obviously an incorrect call he challenged it and TV confirmed the umpire’s mistake. It cost England a win but justice was seen to be done and had the system not been there it would have caused A LOT of controversy.
Baseball is the newest convert to this system having adopted it just this year. Here it is the manager that can challenge a call – one a game (two if his first challenge is proved right). Although it is still early days it has calmed down a game in which according to Mike Marquesse “dissent is commonplace;abusing the umpire is a cherished national tradition” (Mike Marquesse “Anyone but England” page 199). Manager ejections are way down this year as they can now challenge bad calls instead of going on to the field to shout at the umpire and get ejected as a result. That has to be a good thing.
So the evidence from other sports is that a video challenge system can cut down on bad decisions (I’m sure Croatia and Mexico to name but two teams at this World Cup would welcome this) and it would also cut down on dissent and diving as cheats would know that TV would catch them out and they would not gain an advantage (which everybody would agree with). If football has any sense at all – and the struggle to get goal line technology introduced makes one unsure of this – it is not a case of if it is introduced but when
So the unthinkable has happened. Sepp Blatter has had a good idea. Miracles can happen. Now if the BBC can get Phil Neville to say something interesting that would be another miracle…

It is time for arrogant FIFA to face up to the real world

As you know the World Cup starts in Brazil on Thursday. But unless you’ve ben holidaying on the moon these past two weeks you’ll know that FIFA is facing serious corruption allegations about the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. But this is just part of a major problem FIFA – and football – faces. It is out of touch with the real world. it lives in a fantasy world where racism sexism and homophobia don’t exist and for that matter neither do laws that the rest of the world have to obey. A few quotes will back me up.
“Blatter’s arrogance typifies a game that has grown too big for its boots”( Paul Gardner, World Soccer, August 2013, page 15)
“I had come out as hating the World Cup because it’s a completely corrupt boondoggle” (Jennifer Doyle, the Sport Spectacle “On the Sexism of Football Scholars and Sports Critics, May 2014)
“FIFA is an Orwellian global super state” (Paul Hayward, Daily Telegraph, June 10 2014)
“They should refrain from sexual activities” (Sepp Blatter, December 2010, talking about gay people after anti gay Qatar won the 2022 World Cup)
“They could for example wear tighter shorts” (Blatter, January 2004, talking about female footballers)
“”Football needs to free itself from the shackles of European law” (Jerome Champagne, would be FIFA president)
I could go on but you’ve got the point. This is an organisation – and a sport – that lives in its own fantasy world. No wonder Richard Scudamore said the things he did in that infamous e-mail – and got away with it. And Blatter is at it again. After two weeks of corruption allegations about the 2022 World Cup what is his response? Here it is:
“Sadly there is a great deal of discrimination and racism and that hurts me”. That’s a bit rich coming from a guy who has made sexist and homophobic remarks.
So what needs to be done? Quite simply FIFA and football need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the real world. FIFA’s sponsors and the big countries in the world need to say “move them or lose us”. They don’t have to wait for corruption allegations to move the 2018 World Cup from Putin’s Russia or 2022 from Qatar. Both countries have anti gay policies. If FIFA believes in equality (and believe it or not they claim to do) that is all the excuse they need.Sport was a prime factor in ending apartheid in South Africa since the rest of the world boycotted the country. By boycotting homophobic countries like Russia ad Qatar football can set an example. If the sponsors and the big FAs asked FIFA to do this FIFA would have no choice but to comply. If they lost their sponsors and most important members FIFA would lose money. And the one thing FIFA fears is losing money. Hit their weak spot and they will give in.
But more than that is needed. Every law in a country has to apply to football too. One example. In the UK sex discrimination law does not apply in football. That has been the case since 1975 on the pretext that the average woman is at a strength disadvantage to the average man. Now this might have made sense in the political and sporting context of 1975. The UK government at the time had a majority of just 3 seats so probably the Sex Discrimination Bill would have been amended to include this clause anyway. And women’s football had only been unbanned in the UK 1971. But this is 2014 not 1975. The clause is out of date. And even if it isn’t it sets a terrible example. If an industry can get out of one law it doesn’t like it tries to get out of other laws. for example FIFA hates the EU’s freedom of movement laws that mean european workers – including footballers – can play anywhere in europe that they want. this law has applied to football since 1995. Incredibly UEFA and FIFA still don’t accept it and want to be exempt. How arrogant.They must be told. Football is part of society. It must live by the rules of society.
FIFA itself needs reform. The FIFA president must be restricted to two four year terms. Blatter has been there since 1998 and wants to be there till 2019. Too long. The longer someone stays in office the more power they gain. And power corrupts. Also they should be forced to reitre at 70. Blatter is 76 and if he lasts to 2019 he will be 81. How can someone that age be in touch with the modern world?
And finally the World Cup bidding process. . Why do we need a World Cup bidding process at all? We all know in the real world few countries can host the World Cup. I’d say England, France Italy Spain Germany Brazil Argentina the US Mexico Japan South Korea Australia China and South Africa are the only ones. Why not rotate the World Cup between them? Each country would know when it is its turn to host it and would not have to go through an expensive bidding process It could work like this. the 2006 World Cup was in Germany. it then went to south Africa and this year’s is in Brazil. In 2018 it would go to England (the european country among the five above that hasn’t hosted it) then in 2022 it could go to Australia (which has never hosted it) then in 2026 it could go to Argentina (which hasn’t hosted it since 1978) then in 2030 it could go to Spain (last hosts in 1982) and so on.
I can understand the likes of Jennifer Doyle when they say they hate the World Cup. But the World Cup is not the problem. FIFA is. To quote Hugh Gaitskell the former leader of the UK Labour party “we must fight, fight and fight again” to save the sport we love. We must aim for a world where football is in touch with society. We must aim for a world where the only qualification to play for a club is talent – not nationality race or gender. We must aim for a world where FIFA is not corrupt. It might never happen. but we have to aim for it.
PS – despite all FIFA’s faults I’ll still be watching the World Cup. For what it is worth my tip to win is Brazil.

After the winter of discontent what now for England?

As any fan of the England cricket team knows to say 2013-14 was a winter of discontent would be an understatement. Whitewashed 5-0 in the Ashes by an Australian team we’d beaten 3-0 only the previous summer, then beaten 4-1 in the one day games and 3-0 in the 20 20 games. We then went off to the World 20 20 championship in Bangladesh where we won only one match – albeit against the eventual champions Sri Lanka – and then put the tin lid on the shambles by losing to Holland. Oh and one player retired mid tour (Graeme Swann) one went home with a nervous breakdown (Jonathan Trott) and another was dropped for good (Kevin Pietersen). Add to that the loss of two coaches (Andy Flower and Ashley Giles). All in all a shambles that made its political equivalent (1978-79 under James Callaghan where ironically the cricket did go well – England beat Australia 5-1 – just in a winter of non stop strikes and non stop snow everything else went wrong – look like a teddy bear’s picnic by comparison).
But the winter is over now. It is summer. England have a new coach in Peter Moores and a week tomorrow they play their first Test since that awful winter against Sri Lanka at Lord’s. The selectors meet today to pick the team and will announce it tomorrow. So who should they pick? Every cricket
fan in the UK has his/her opinion so I reckon I should reveal mine. So here it is. My England team to play Sri Lanka at Lord’s a week tomorrow:
1.Alastair Cook (Captain)
2.Sam Robson
3.Joe Root
4.Ian Bell
5.Gary Ballance
6.Ben Stokes
7.Matt Prior (wicket-keeper)
8.Stuart Broad
9.Chris Jordan
10.James Anderson
11.Monty Panesar
Plus two more bowlers to make up a 13 man squad: Liam Plunkett and Steve Finn.
Now this comes with a caveat. They might not all be fit. Matt Prior and Ben Stokes might not be. In that case James Foster would replace Prior and Moeen Ali would replace Stokes. In that case Liam Plunkett would replace monty Panesar for team balance.
So the reasons? There are five certain picks in my opinion – Cook, Bell Root Broad and Anderson. As for the rest for Cook’s opening partner I’ve looked to the future. Michael Carberry and Nick Compton have failed and Robson has been in good form for the England Lions (England’s second XI) although Yorkshire’s Adam Lyth was close. Root bats no 3. it is high time this young man was given a regular role. He has been moved all over the shop. He has opened, batted at 3,5 and 6 – give the kid a break! Bell our best player wants to bat at 4 so let him. Ballance has started well at yorkshire and Stokes was the only good piece of news in an awful winter. Jordan was the star – with bat and ball – of the recently completed one day series with Sri Lanka and Panesar is in because we should always pick a spinner and he is the beat we have in a very bare cupboard.
I also think we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. We’ve lost three experienced players already. My team contains six experienced players (Cook Bell Prior Broad Anderson and Panesar) two new caps (Robson and Jordan) two others who first appeared during the winter (Ballance and Stokes) and one 23-year-old who first played in 2012 (Root). A blend of youth and experience. Just what is needed after the winter of discontent.

It is time for Royal Family to skip a generation

The heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, has created a diplomatic storm this week. While on a visit to Canada, he spoke to a jewish woman who’d fled Poland during World War II that Russian President Vladimir Putin “is doing just about the same as Hitler” in Ukraine. It was a stupid remark that should not have been made by someone in his position.
First of all Charles is Britain’s next Head of State. The Monarch in Britain is a figurehead. He/she goes on tour to represent Britain. He/she is an ambassador for the country. It is not an ambassador’s job to criticise another country. It is up to Prime Minister David Cameron or foreign secretary William Hauge to do this. Secondly it is an insulting remark. Whatever you think of Putin – and while he is a dangerous man in my opinion he’s no Hitler – Russia lost 20 million men fighting Hitler. Of course they are going to be offended.
This wouldn’t be a problem if it was a one off. But it is not. He has written letters to British Government ministers that the Guardian newspaper wants to publish – quite rightly – under the UK’s Freedom of Information act. The Attorney General Dominic Grieve is trying to block their publication. While one does not know what is in them they can be taken as controversial if the Government is trying to block their publication. Why should Charles be protected?
It is now clear that this man would be a disaster as King. He is not popular in Britain – for the way he treated the popular Diana – and his wife Camilla even less so – they had an affair when Charles was still married to Diana. He is also a “loose cannon” who as King could cause serious problems if he got involved in a political issue or made another diplomatic blunder like the Putin one. He could seriously damage the royal family, now popular again after a bad spell between the Queen’s annus horribilis of 1992 and Diana’s death in 1997. He could put the future of the monarchy in danger.
However there is a solution. Charles’ son Prince William and his wife Kate are very popular as their recent tour of Australia and New Zealand showed. They are the future of the royal family. So why not skip a generation? Charles could renounce his claim to the throne and when his mother the Queen dies the crown would pass to William instead. Charles would then be free to speak his mind without causing a fuss and the future of the monarchy would be safe in William’s hands.
it probably won’t happen. Charles has been preparing for the job of King all his life. But there is no shame in sacrificing yourself for the greater cause of the monarchy. Republicanism – in decline in Britain at the moment – is only a bad monarch away from a resurgence. Charles should admit he is not up to the job. For the sake of its future the Royal Family should skip a generation. Otherwise we could have a Republic. Tony Blair as British President anyone?

All hail Mike Hessman the Barry Bonds of the Minors

First of all a bit about myself. I’m just an ordinary guy who likes sport and has strong views about the way sport (and Britain) are run. I’ll be writing when I feel like it about whatever I feel like writing about. And who knows someone might like it.

Although I’m from Britain I’m a big fan of baseball and a couple of days ago I noticed something on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight. Namely that Mike Hessman of the Toledo Mud Hens(the Detroit Tiger’s Triple A team) had hit his 400th career Minor League home run, only the fourth man in the history of baseball to do that in American Minor League circuits. The others being Buzz Arlett, Nick Cullop and Merv Connors. So what people will say? After all you only hit 400 home runs in the Minor Leagues if you can’t hack it in the majors.That is true. In his 109 game Major League career he hit .188 (which is not good – anything below .200 is considered unacceptable for a Major League hitter – although he did have 14 home runs and 33 RBIs.) He is now 36 years old which means he is unlikely to be gracing the Majors again. Baseball Prospectus – the baseball players Who’s Who – said of him “he is what materialized when baseball scientists asked “what if it is possible to achieve higher than 80 power by giving the specimen 20s everywhere else?” (Baseball Prospectus 2014, page 178). You get the impression they don’t think he’s very good. So why should this guy be celebrated?. Simple. The fact is 98% of minor league players never reach the Majors(No girls in the Clubhouse, Marilyn Cohen, page 108). He did. Secondly to be still slogging away in the Minors at 36 suggests he truly loves his sport. He has found his true level. And that is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact he should be proud.

The fact is this guy represents most baseball players – indeed most sportspeople (and fans). The vast majority of us aren’t Miguel Cabrera Mike Trout or Justin Verlander. We are just average to poor players. We can identify with this guy. He has more in common with the rest of us than the small elite we see in televised sport. He should be celebrated. The record for home runs in the Minors is 432 held by Buzz Arlett. Hessman might pass that record before his career is done. In which case he would become “the Barry Bonds of the Minors”. And one other point. He will have done it without the aid of performance enhancing drugs.

Finally if you want to read a good blog I’d recommend Jennifer Doyle’s “The Sport Spectacle”( Always an interesting and provocative read. even if you don’t agree with some of it…

Update: On August 3rd 2015 Hessman hit his 433rd Minor League home run beating Arlett’s record. And it was a Grand Slam! Congratulations Mike you deserve this record. With the Tigers’ play off hopes being slim at best it would be a sentimental gesture for the them to give Mike some big League at bats at the end of the season…