The Sports Press

white_sports_journalism_world-111-thumb-640xauto-1846Sports journalism in the US is a respected and full-time job (though it is a curiously white profession). In the UK, we have hacks, TV journalists and the odd, very few, real sportswriters. Generally it comes across as a job for limited wankers.

Most are hacks, churning out terrace talk or gossip fed to them by agents. Following their stories and cues are the TV journalists who did very little actual research but happily comment on what the papers are saying. The real writers, talented men and women who could possibly work in many fields of writing inhabit the broadsheets and websites, writing the occasional pieces across the broad spectrum of sport often using historical analysis. Think of it as your grandfather telling you a few stories from back in the day while reflecting on present events. They know nothing really changes too much in human psychology.

Last week Mancini, the manager of Manchester City swore at a press conference when asked for the zenith time if his job was under threat. It really might be. But its unlikely right now. Yet his exasperation was fuelled by lazy hack journalism and lit by the final question. Finishing second in the league and ejected from the Champions League is a poor season for Man City. With the players at their disposal, they should be challenging for everything. Yet what they and their manager lack is nouse and experience, something Ferguson across the city passes onto his players every week. But more significantly, Ferguson’s players come to the club to win, knowing anything less will see changes. These players are well-paid but that isn’t what draws them to the club. Its Ferguson and his drive to win.

Mancini has made mistakes this season. This tactics are suspect at times especially his rotating system at the back. Its simply unnecessary. He has also bought some relatively average players for phenomenal amounts of money.  Wenger at Arsenal is also under media pressure. The fans, while a little disenchanted, are sticking by him. He is Wenger after all and the issues at the club reflect a different financial reality. His magic does seem to be waning and again his transfers upfront and in defence are often poor or simply not good enough. Earlier last week Wenger snapped at a female journalist who asked if he has anything to say to the fans after their FA Cup exit. His irritable reaction didn’t look good but the question was inane and Wenger took the bait and then provided the story than a simply call the question inane and move onto another question.

Managers give press conferences to attempt to manage the media and get their side across. Yet today with the rolling 24 hour news and the internet rumour mill, very little can be achieved. Ferguson takes note of questions and refuses to speak to certain journalists until their organisations send a replacement journalist. He knows how to use his influence and understands these journalists are looking for an easy story rather than a dedicated piece. They have half a page to fill too. Wenger and Mancini let their irritation out in public and feed the machine who then sell the story onto the fans.

The media would argue when the managers win they take the plaudits and must take the blame when they lose. Managers like Wenger and Mancini need to take a page from a different book and let the machine do the work. Initially sensationalist and made-up stories would fill the gaps but the public won’t stomach that for long. Ultimately it might lead journalists remembering their roots or pack it in all together and leave it to the on-line and dedicated fans to provide the depth.

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Dan’s Awards 2012

DSCF7883Person of the Year

Gabriel Almonacid for being a great mate in Colombia providing me with a bed, a guide in Bogota and the ‘nearby’ old towns and staying with his great family in Armenia. I even heard he and Claudia tried to call me the other night!

Comeback of the Year

Christine Leclerc. After living together for a year many years ago, I can say I have missed that big laugh and smiley face a lot.

DSCF1214Newcomer of the Year

Jan Thomas Ødegaard, the slightly eccentric Norwegian gets the nod.

My Christ Its Been a Long Time

Bobbi Coombs met me at the airport in Winnipeg after not seeing each other for about 3500 days (aka 9.5 years) and then had me to stay for a few days. We ate Easter dinner with her family, watched hockey together and I got well and truly plastered with her brother Doug.

DSCF8918Meal of the Year

Eating the freshly-caught fish in Colombia with Jenni and Kati.

Sushi with Ronnie and Debs in Ontario

Tapas and red wine with Gabrielle in Bilbao.

What the hell happened Last Night drunk night

3. The Sarajevo dancing night.

2. Post presentation with Oli Bigland in Oxford

1. Waking up in the morning in a Ukrainian mental hospital. I still don’t know what happened.

PANO_20120516_183803Sight of the Year

Kotor in Montenegro blew me away. Waking up in our house in Salento in Colombia. The sight of Venice from the train station. Its everything you’ve heard about.

Random Moment Award

Jumping off the NY subway to be with Bora.

The house gig with Em in Bavaria

Cultural Event of the Year

Taking part in the La Merce festival in Barcelona with Ilo. Fireworks, burns and dancing masks.

DSC_0392-1Sports event of the Year

Big year for games. I saw maybe 10 and 5 or 6 were football derbies, the Yankees and the Knicks play in New York but it has to go to the Belgrade derby. Red Star against Partizan Belgrade.

Films of the Year

Moonrise Kingdom or Cloud Atlas

Favourite album of the year

Japandroids

Moment of Violence Moment

Getting chased and hit with a truncheon by a rabid Bosnian policeman before the Sarajevo derby was pretty exciting.

Bar of the Year

Tijuana bar in Belgrade, the night of the French music with Mirjana and Jan.

Hospital Bar in Kiev with the flaming helmet

Scariest moment of the Year

Seeing Emmi somersault off her bike and land on her head in Bavaria. Luckily she was wearing a helmet and only broke two neck vertebrates.

Big Balls Moment

Heading back in a taxi from the beach with Jenni and Marioka in Santa Cruz, Colombia, we saw a neighbourhood street party. We changed in the hostel and walked there. the police were outside telling us not to go in as it was a cartel party. We looked at each other and walked over. After some drinks and flour thrown over us, we ended drinking the local firewater outside the convenience store with some truckers until the early hours.

Standing up to another huge, sneering policeman before the Sarajevo derby was fairly scary.

Would I do it all again?

Hell yeah. I’d like to thank everyone for helping me along the way 🙂

Beach Football World Cup Qualifiers

2013-01-22 09-25-37-063I went to the WC beach football qualifiers here last week. Beach football is usually garbage but being sat with 200 Afghans as they trashed Qatar 7-3 with their goalkeeper making a string of fantastic saves and then scoring on the counterattack was brilliant. The Afghans who do the poorest jobs were great fun. They were smiling, had drums and danced and cheered. Plus if you know anything about Afghanistan, you’ll know how diverse they are ethnically and that really showed in the crowd.

The previous game brought out the local Thais and Japanese as their nations dueled to a 4-1 Japanese win. The Japanese are good at this, twice winners in the past but this time their hopes seems to rest on the 6-4 African guy who played at the back! The Qataris themselves were embarrassing in their lack of support for their team.

IMG_20130126_215410_0I went back with friends here for the finals. The UAE controversially beat Australia (who scored an equaliser a  second after the final whistle). The UAE spent a significant amount of their time rolling around on the sand too. The final brought together Japan and Iran and its fairly raucous fans. Iran used their size advantage to bully the Japanese but simply couldn’t get past the best player in the tournament, a lanky, black ‘Japanese’ guy called Ozu. Japan led throughout until the last few minutes when Iran scored 3 quick goals to equal it up. It went to penalties and Iran kept their nerve. The best team beat the best player who tired after leading the whole team and never being subbed.

The top 3 team went through to the World Cup beach football tournament in……Taihiti. I am in the wrong business. Great nights of football and cultural experiences.

Milan Derby – AC Milan vs Inter Milan

IMG_20121007_212732Timing is everything but this year has been curiously fortunate. Not only have I met old friends who happen to be in towns not usually associated with me (New York, Philadelphia, Frankfurt, Belgrade, Salzburg as examples) I’ve caught festivals and events on the per chance of being there. i speak of the Barranquilla Carnival in Colombia (the largest in South America after Rio), catching the end of the ice hockey season in Canada, the Knicks vs Nets game in the USA, the end of the snow in the Alps, the Festes de la Mercee in Barcelona, the film festival in San Sebastian (Penelope Cruz et al) and another random trip with Jan. Along the way, I’ve met more old friends than I can state and new classic additions to the roster. Certain ideas have been reinforced, new ideas bred and mistakes averted (or at least seen early rather than late).

On a lighter level I’ve seen sport in many of the countries. Ice hockey in Canada, basketball and baseball in New York and football in Colombia, Serbia, Bosnia, Wales, Italy and soon, Ukraine. I wrote before about Serbia and Bosnia, the derbies there were intense, if slightly lacking in football. But football, like many cultural and collective events are signifers of culture development. Development blazes in many directions and could be said to be directionless and football, like most sport (sorry Mr Cameron, Johnson and Coe) is relatively unimportant but becomes interesting when used as a propaganda. Let’s all cheers success and latch on. Forget the rest. Cheers or be damned.

The crowds at the games reveal some of society. Colombia’s crowd were cheerful, mixed affairs full of boos and cheers, chants and relaxation. Serbia and Bosnia were tribal, male affairs where football sat in the background as male antagonism and group mentality led the chants of anger and negativity. The chants took no account of the game. It revelled in the violence them and us, the false assumption bred by facture, ignorance and discord. The celebratory stories of fear and menace sounded like England in the 70s and 80s. The Ukraine vs Montenegro international in the huge

In Italy, I timed myself to Milan perfectly for the biggest game of the year so far, AC Milan vs Inter in the San Siro. Outside the ground there was a casual police presence and yet outside and inside the crowd was mixed. Friends or couples walked or sat in opposite colours. The lack of hostility indicated a maturity within football and society in general where differences fall into the background, the foreground of commonality of issues, problems and culture are debated and upheld. 85,000 people understood the true value of the game.

IMG_20121007_224738The game itself was a classic of noise, missed chances, whistles and humour. The home in the curva sud and away in the curva nord fans were in opposite ends, unveiling humourous banners to each other and generally having a good time. The majority of the stadium was mixed seating and better for it. The lack of animosity and acromony created a relaxed atmosphere allowing the traditional exaggerated Italian body language to overtly exert itself at every chance.

Inter won one-nil despite being down to 10 men for 40 minutes. Milan had the ball in crossing positions down the left all game but desperately lack a striker. Robinho also continues to prove himself as one of the greatest wastes of talent in the game. Inter weren’t much better and how Milito is considered world class is beyond me. Cartman from South Park moves quicker. All this explains the team’s missed chances but only fortunate timing describes mine.

1908 v 1948 v 2012

London has staged 3 Olympic Games which must be a record in itself. Recent comparative analysis made me wonder which I’d prefer to go between 1908, 1948 and 2012. I’m going for the former. My reasons are near as facetious as our recent purchase of world darts finals tickets.

The BBC has a short summary of the 3 games here and there is something endearing about 1908. Being there by today’s standards might be disappointing. There were no fireworks, little media coverage and many irregularities. But that doesn’t take much away for me. While an athlete now might lament they’ve worked their whole their for this moment, back then triple gold swimming medallist Henry Taylor went back to run a pub in Oldham.

I love the inclusion of the tug of war, the fact it’s sponsored by oxo, Wyndham Halswelle ran (and naturally won) the men’s 400m by himself after everyone else was disqualified or withdrew or that some athletes individually withdrew on a matter of conscience. The story of Italian marathon runner collapsing on the final straight and being helped across the line by the crowds is heart-warming even if he was later demoted. Derek Redmond’s Dad would probably now be shot as a terrorist. It was run privately by the Olympic committee with no government intervention or financing. .

1948 took place after the Second World War when rationing was still in place. The quirky highlight now must be the medals for painting and sculpture.The games also included Fanny Blankers-Koen, winner of 4 gold medals and named Female Athlete of the Century in 1999. Oh and guess what, it made a profit!

I can’t comment on 2012 as it has yet to happen but even now I can say this. Despite years of university courses, books and marketing itself, the marketing industry still has much to learn about making a poster!

The Race That Shocked The World

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The BBC showed an excellent program last week (here) concerned the 100m sprint during the 1980s. It traced the rivalry between 1984 Olympic Champion Carl Lewis and 1988 Olympic champion Ben Johnson. But undermining all the records and medals was the use of drugs. Before the 1984 Olympics, in 1983, the US tested many of their athletes to get an idea of the extent of drug use whch were so dire they chose not to publicise their results. One commentator on the program stated 25 gold medals involved drug taking.

By 1988 Ben Johnson was the world champion and world record holder, demonstrating a fast start and the power to maintain his speed to the end making him uncatchable. Johnson won the race in 9.79 (present world record is 9.58) but his urine sample showed high levels of anabolic steroids in his system. He was stripped of the title and record and banned for 4 years.

In time, 5 (of 8) who started that race were banned through their career. Lewis was caught taking banned susbstances (at the time) but it was never followed up. Roger Kingdom stated it would be a disaster for US athletics if Lewis didn’t go. While Christie continues to act the douche (see his car crash court case) accusing others of being jealous when they point out his drug failures and saying we should move on. Carl Lewis and Britain’s Linford Christie challenged their usage of drugs to improve their performance. Christie won Olympic gold in 1992 but wouldn’t have been in that position if he hadn’t taken drugs. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s bodybuilding success and hence film career were equalled based on steroids use. This program included interviews with all the men who lined up in the 1988 final in Seoul.

Women’s sprint records are often smirked at. They all date back to the Cold War and in some cases the 1970s. Yet this program showed how rife cheating was and how much political motives intervened. US sprinters Joe DeLoach and Andre Phillips also failed drug tests but were allowed to go to Seoul to win gold medals. Near the end of the program, a drug scientist stated he went back to the 1983 samples and re-tested them with modern methods. After a while he stopped. He said he didn’t want to know.

Available on iPlayer here