Archive for June, 2011|Monthly archive page

McQueen’s Championship

Regular Jumpers for Goalposts pundit Ewan McQueen takes you to the world of the Championship on his own blog and of course Champions Chat. Enjoy!

Last season’s second tier of English football gripped me as always. There was the usual mountain of goals, thrilling end to end games and many players who simply lit up the league.

However, one of the key elements of any Championship season is the quality of the managers and how they handle the uniqueness of the league. Neil Warnock with Queens Park Rangers, Paul Lambert with Norwich and Brendan Rogers with Swansea City, proved themselves as the best of a very good bunch by getting their sides promoted to the Premiership.

This season promises to be no different as 24 managers fight for glory. The standard of managers is just getting better every season, in my opinion.

West Ham should never have been relegated from the Premiership. The way Avram Grant failed to motivate a squad full of England internationals such as Scott Parker, Carlton Cole and Rob Green along with other quality players such as Mark Noble, Robbie Keane and Demba Ba was disgraceful. However, Grant’s replacement has all the attributes to get West Ham promoted straight back up to the Premiership.

The style of football that Sam Allardyce has promoted throughout his managerial career isn’t pretty but it’s extremely effective and I fully expect the usual gritty performances at Upton Park in this upcoming Championship season. Allardyce has already shown his intentions by securing the signing of Kevin Nolan from his previous club Newcastle United, who ironically enough was his former captain at Bolton.

West Ham are still a big club, who can attract big names but the appointment of Allardyce was still a coup. Many managers seem unwilling to touch this club with a bargepole, but Allardyce was different. The two David’s Gold and Sullivan and Karren Brady have appointed a man who transformed Bolton from a Division One club (as it was known then), into a team who consistently finished in the top half of the Premiership and he also led the Wanderers into the Uefa Cup group stages and the Carling Cup Final in 2004, where they lost to Middlesbrough.

After the 2006 World Cup, Allardyce was heavily touted as the next English manager, before losing out to Steve McClaren.  I accept West Ham are probably not a Championship club, but to have a man who was regarded as one of the best English managers around from the period of 2003-2006,shows the power of the Championship.

However two clubs have gazumped West Ham in their managerial appointments. On Monday, sleeping giants Nottingham Forest appointed former England manager Steve McClaren as the man to guide them back to the big time.

Only days earlier McClaren was on his way for an interview with Aston Villa, who then decided they didn’t want him; I found Villa’s stance utterly baffling. Despite failing as England manager, this is a man who took Middlesbrough of all clubs to a Uefa Cup final, beating teams such asBasel and Steaua Bucharest along the way.

He also led them to the 2004 Carling Cup and also a seventh place finish in the league and attracted players such as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Michael Reiziger to the North East.

After the England failure, McClaren took a brave step to reinvent himself and promptly won the Dutch league title with the unfashionable Fc Twente, whom he also led to the Dutch Cup Final. And let’s not forget McClaren was the man who was by Sir Alex Ferguson’s side at Manchester United as the Old Trafford Club went and won their historic treble in 1999.

McClaren’s CV rivals just about any manager and despite another blip at Wolfsburg, I am delighted Forest has given him the chance to prove himself again in English football and the Championship is considerably stronger with his presence.

McClaren won’t be the only former England manager to be managing in the Championship in the upcoming season. At Leicester Sven Goran Eriksson will also be looking to get back into the Premiership.

Despite agreeing with many football fans and other media commentators that Eriksson would now take a job anywhere, I do find it incredible that a man who has won trophies all around Europe, including league championships in Italy, Portugal and Sweden plus also leading Lazio to the Uefa Cup Winners Cup in 1999 and he also led them, plus Benfica and Goteborg to Uefa Cup Finals, winning with Goteborg in 1982.

He also led England in three major finals, where on every occasion he was knocked out in the quarter finals, although taking a closer look at each game, he was very unlucky. Against Brazil, David Seaman was inexplicably beaten by Ronaldinho and against Portugal in both Euro 2004 and the World Cup of 2006 England were beaten on penalties.

Sven also had short other spells as manager of both Mexico and Ivory Coast, showing how varied his career has been. For someone who has been a manager at 3 world cups, plus won a Serie A title, to be managing in the second tier of English football is simply incredible.

Those three managers probably stand out, but some other impressive managers will also be in the hunt this season. How can I not mention the irreplaceable Ian Holloway at Blackpool, who despite all his brilliant sound-bites, also proved how good a manager he is by leading Blackpoolto the Premiership and almost keeping them there.

Two sons will be looking to follow in their fathers’ giants shadows as they manage Derby Countyand Peterborough respectively. Whilst Nigel Clough at Derby and Darren Ferguson may never match their fathers incredible achievements, they serve as a timely reminder that great mangers including their fathers both started off small.

At Middlesbrough Tony Mowbray will be determined to build on last season’s strong finish. Despite failing at Celtic, he is still managed to find himself a big club and it was a bit of a coup to convince Mowbray to come back to the Riverside after he was sacked from Parkhead.

Right now, one of the main contenders for promotion Birmingham lie in limbo regards their manager, with Alex Mcleish having gone to bitter rivals Aston Villa on Friday. However, the quality of names being linked is nothing short of spectacular.

Names such as Chris Hughton who got Newcastle promoted two seasons ago, Dave Jones who managed Cardiff to a FA Cup final and consecutive play-off appearances and Billy Davies, who got Derby, promoted and also ledNottingham Forest to consecutive play off appearances before being sacked two weeks ago have already been banded about.

The managerial talent in the Championship this season is simply mesmerising and once again, I am predicting another fierce battle, possibly involving former international managers and who have managed in the Premiership.


Movie review: Senna

As an F1 fanatic, I have been eagerly anticipating the arrival of Senna in UK cinemas. But what if you’re not an Formula 1 fan? Can an almost two hour-long documentary about a guy driving around in fast cars keep you entertained? The answer is yes.

Senna is a fast flowing tale of man who truly lived fast and died young, shot in an unorthodox way compared to the standard, dry story telling pattern most documentaries follow.

The fiercest rivalry in F1, Ayrton Senna versus Alan Prost, features prominently in "Senna"

Director Asif Kapadia said: “For me, film is a very visual medium. I’m not the sort of person who will make a film that is really dialogue heavy”. Kapadia’s cinematic views present themselves on screen with the rejection of talking head and an objective voice over.

Instead, Kapadia relied on nearly 15.000 hours of period footage and audio-only interviews with first-hand observers such as Senna’s family, his rivals and team bosses.

For almost two hours, the screen is filled with sometimes unseen, always entertaining, footage of F1 cars battling through the streets of Monaco, spectacular crashes and the ongoing clash between the flamboyant and controversial Brazilian Ayrton Senna and his archrival, the calm and cool Frenchman Alain “Le Professeur” Prost.

Kapadia said: “Everything you see is real, and I didn’t shoot a frame of it. I didn’t need to. My team and I used the actual footage to create a three act-story of the life Ayrton Senna.”

This is where Senna shows its strength. The spectacular footage, proof that action can be delivered without special effects, combined with the Brazilian’s ‘Hollywoodesque’ life story, makes this documentary the most entertaining and realistic racing movie in decades.

In the eighties and nineties both Sylvester Stallone (Driven) and Tom Cruise (Days of Thunder) tried to bring NASCAR and the Indy 500 to the masses. Both movies lacked realism with over the top special effects and cliché scripting. Also, the US-centred racing leagues drove away European visitors from the cinema.

Arguably, the last good racing films popular on both sides of the Atlantic, were made in the sixties and seventies with John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix and Steve McQueen’s Le Mans as the two front runners.

Racing fans hail both movies for their exceptional real life racing footage in an era without hundreds of cameras catching the drivers’ every move. Unfortunately both movies suffered from the lack of story line and only race fans were hooked to the productions.

On the brink of super stardom: a young Ayrton Senna and his "JPS" Lotus 97T (1985)

However, Senna strikes the right balance between entertainment and telling an emotional life story. Senna’s life is real, the racing is real, the emotions are real, the crashes a real. And so is death; waiting around every corner on the race track.

In short, Senna is the ultimate (fairy)tale of a racing driver. The Brazilian star, loved and admired by millions and feared by his rivals, lived a life which no Hollywood script writer could come up with, without loosing his or her credibility. This makes Senna a spectacle for both F1 fanatics as well as anyone who likes to see action, drama and emotion in a movie.

Stef Meens

The world needs to LiveStrong, more than it needs a guilty Lance Armstrong

The crusaders against seven time Tour de France winner and cycling legend Lance Armstrong claim they want to pursue justice in cycling as well as in worldwide professional sport. However, there is something more important at stake: the future of the LiveStrong foundation

In a simple straightforward world in which justice would be based on looking at facts, nobody would bother accusing Lance Armstrong of using doping. With over 500 drug tests in his career, all negative, it is hard to argue he ever used performance enhancing medication. Or in other words; it can not be proven in a scientific manner.

However, there is a bit of a problem. It is called professional cycling. From the hay days of Tom Simpson, who died attempting to beat the mighty Mont Ventoux on dope, and cycling legend  Eddie Merckx, till the era of Alberto Contador; the sport has always been surrounded by rumours, conspiracy theories and indeed evidence of dope users.

After the ‘Festina  scandal’  during the mid-nineties,  we thought the peloton learned its lesson. But the new millennium proofed otherwise. Cycling aces Jan Ullrich, Iban Mayo, Alexandre Vinokourov, Roberto Heras, Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton, were all caught with the finger in the cookie jar of biscuits that make you cycle a bit faster.

Although a few of Armstrong’s former team mates were proven dopers (Heras, Landis and Hamilton), they were not racing with the Texan in the same team at the time they were caught. However, this makes it undeniable that Lance was active in a peloton in which his main rivals used or were accused of using dope. So let’s make a bold statement: Armstrong lived in a culture in which ‘go-faster pills’ were normal.

As said before, ‘The Boss’ never failed a drug test, so despite the existence of dope around Armstrong, there is no scientific evidence for cheating. However, things were and are about to get a lot uglier after dope users and former teammates Hamilton and Landis accused Lance of using EPO and blood transfusions.

Why should we believe Floyd Landis? The short answer is we should not. For years he maintained he was innocent after winning the 2006 Tour full of dope. He asked people for millions of dollars to pay for his legal proceedings before finally ‘unburdening’ his mind by confessing he used forbidden drugs. But instead of taking the blame like a man, he cowardly drew all attention to Lance. Is it the act of a desperate man, a bitter rival, or a broke man looking for some media attention to cash in on?

If there is one thing we can learn from Landis, it is that we cannot trust cyclists for the their word until they are actually proven (not) guilty. Which brings us to Tyler Hamilton, who on CBS’s 60 Minutes ‘confessed’, he saw Armstrong use EPO when they were teammates, and even more controversial, he said the Word Cycling Federation (UCI) concealed a positive test belonging to Armstrong. This claim has been denied by the governing body.

So why does Hamilton bring out these statements regarding his former team captain? Also, why is he not he accusing other riders? Does it have something to do with Hamilton’s soon to be released book or because a federal investigation concerning Armstrong’s career is going on?

Again, like with Landis, it is Hamilton’s word against that of Armstrong and why would we believe two ex team mates who where caught after they left Armstrong’s team to ride for their own success? Both have lied for years and decided, after their careers derailed, to ‘confess’ their sins, or more so, Armstrong’s.

Another twist in the tale could be former teammate and friend George Hincapie, who remained Lance’s most loyal servant throughout all seven Tour de France victories. He allegedly confessed to federal officers of using EPO as well as helping seeing Lance take it. Unlike Hamilton, Hincapie was not interviewed by CBS. However, the show claimed he made the confession. He responded saying:  “I can confirm to you that I never spoke with 60 Minutes. I have no idea where they got their information.” At the moment it is unclear if and what Hincapie revealed. Thus Armstrong remains innocent, denying all claims made by his former team mates.

What if (a dangerous question to raise in a column) he is found to be guilty? What if they do find evidence? As I said earlier, it is not completely unthinkable that the best cyclist of the past decade who beat all his rivals, many of whom were accused or punished for the use of dope, used performance enhancing medication. So would proof of cheating make Lance any less of an athlete?

I do not think so. You cannot win seven consecutive Tours de France without being the best. You can argue that a single win, like Landis or Heras, could be the direct result of their drug abuse, since they were caught immediately during the height of their success.

However, winning de toughest cycling event in the world seven times in a row means you have a lot of talent, physical and mental strength. Undeniable, dope can enhance performance but not the amount that makes you beat the 200 hundred best cyclists in the world, year in, year out. So for me, Lance’s status as one of finest cyclists and indeed athletes of all time, will not be affected if he is convicted for dope use.

Am I worried about cycling, if its biggest star  of the past decade turned out to be a cheat? Again, no. As said before, cycling was, is and will be a sport of people searching for their physical limit, and thus crossing the line.

Eddie Merckx, seen by many as the best cyclist that ever, was accused and proven guilty of using dope. Yet, his reputation as a legend remains. Also, there seems to be an awareness, over time, that the best athlete will always win, despite the use of dope. And judging by the thousands of spectators along the Tour’s stages (after the Olympic Games and the Football World Cup the best watched sporting event in the world), the legendary bike race should not need to worry about its popularity.

Would I be worried about The Boss himself? Of course not, he is a wealthy man who has the means to retreat behind safe walls to protect himself as well as his family.

Although, he probably needs to flee the country since Americans, more than any other country men, hate people cheating in sport. However, I do not really care what happens to Lance. As longs as he stays out of jail (unlike Marion Jones) he will have to bear the consequences of his actions, like any other human being.

Nevertheless, I do worry about Lance’s legacy. I am not talking about his professional cycling career, but his role as founder and role model of the LiveStrong foundation, which has raised $80.000.000 worldwide, to battle cancer.

Armstrong, like no other, took his social responsibility. Wherever he went, with or without the peloton, he visited hospitals, talked with cancer patients, parents and survivors. He tried to help, listen pray and inspire them. It is easy to lend your name to a foundation but the way Armstrong became the face of the battle against cancer, makes him a role model for other athletes and powerful people in society who have the means to change things.


Armstrong is the first to admit that the success of LiveStrong is not down to him alone, despite beating cancer and/or cycling fast through France. Livestrong was build on the many members of staff and volunteers dedicating their time for the good of the foundation. However, all of this would not have been possible if it was not for the Lance, who by beating cancer and becoming a successful athlete, became a symbol of inspiration triggering a response from society which enabled the rise and success of LiveStrong.

If Armstrong’s reputation is to be damaged, the symbolic foundation on which LiveStrong is build will be destroyed. So let us hope, not so much for cycling or Lance himself, but for the sake of  his wonderful foundation, and the millions of people it helped and inspired world wide, that the Texan remains not guilty. Because it is vital that people are aware of the message LiveStrong spreads.

Stef Meens

Jumpers for Goalposts, The Grand Season Finale

The podcast comes to an emotional end as the boys retire for the summer. Stef is joined by Ewan, Sahil, Colin and Elliot on a bumper show to draw the curtains on an eventful campaign. There’s revelations and commiserations, and listen out for a special musical number at the end.

Enjoy, and see you next season!

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