About kerrystewart

You should never want to be perfect - he who is perfect can never get any better.

Oii ref! – Good effort

I’ve done it. I’m not altogether proud of myself. I was loud and abrasive too. But I’d probably do it again.

I have bashed refs. Not physically mind you and most often from the comfort of my sofa, at times with little provocation, except in the case of one particular rugby union official who is referred to as ‘thon man’ in a tone of familiar disgust. (Don’t encourage me; we’ve lost before we’ve started with thon man blowin’).

I’m reminded of this highly contagious social pastime with the news that World Cup final referee Howard Webb is to take on Colchester versus Shrewsbury on Saturday. That’s in League One, the league below the Championship, which is below the Premier league and a long way from Soccer City. No disrespect to either club but most football fans, commentators or people with eyes would concur that this isn’t the Big game of the weekend (I realise that the Premier league isn’t the be all and end all of football. I’m personally hoping that Lisburn Distillery don’t get a sudden epiphany of Best-like guile and slide a few past Dungannon Swifts in an attempt to go down in the comfort of having reached the hallowed 20 points mark. Aside from this, QPR-Stoke, and West Ham-Wigan are the others to look out for).

It seems every week on Match of the Day the uniformed collection of pundits bemoan how they are left talking about the performance of the officials rather than players. Think Mark Halsey a few weeks ago. He failed to see the tackle made by Callum Mcmanaman who rammed his studs through the knee of his opponent but went unpunished, not even a raised eyebrow. Halsey was also relegated to a League One match in lieu of this incident.

The two examples mentioned are professionals; they both have plenty of experience in the game. Even in spite of this, they made mistakes. Of course they have. Sport at this level (League One upwards!) is fluid, fast and not exact. I’ve recently taken up umpiring my sport and although I was confident I understood the rules since I’ve played for years, when I had the whistle between my lips I started to doubt the knowledge I have accumulated. The more I’ve done it, the better I’ve become but it isn’t as natural as deciphering the rules as a player. I don’t enjoy umpiring in the same way I do playing the game but it has increased my understanding of the sport.

Maybe this is the crucial element that casual observers don’t have. It always easier from the sidelines. Competitive sport can’t happen without the officials and they want to be the best they can be. Do you think Howard Webb wants to hear Alan Hanson drone on about how “unbelievable” his decisions are? Not all the players get things right 100% (or 110%) of the time, we shouldn’t berate the officials of they don’t either.

They are out there trying, perhaps their motivation is an inflated sense of self-importance, maybe they are no good at the game themselves or they might just enjoy getting out of the house and away from the family. And, as they say in my neck of the woods, God loves a trier (although, a Christian friend of mine recently revealed he was fairly sure this isn’t a direct quote from the Holy Bible. He may benefit from reading a different version!).


Aggers talks sense

I have been convinced for quite a while, that technology can sense a non-convert. It seems to know that I am capable of emailing, flicking through news websites and Google mapping, but aside from that, I’m neither too competent, nor too bothered. Recently, for reasons still unknown to myself I enrolled in a computer course to extend my (perfectly adequate if Neolithic knowledge) of Word, Excel and Powerpoint. As a result, (I’m still waiting for official conformation) I do believe my name will appear in the next publication of the Guinness Book of World Records under the depressingly accurate accolade of having been entrapped in a public library where all previous levels of boredom known to man were annihilated through the medium of databases. Minutes turned to hours as I began to recognise the early onset of Stockholm syndrome as I persuaded myself I was there for my own good.

I’m diverting off on a tangent of doom. What I wanted to point out is that I listen to a lot of sport on the radio because I don’t have Sky TV.

Most of the time, (depending on the commentator) I don’t feel like I miss out by not having pictures.  When watching sport, there are often distractions which catch the eye, particularly when crowds of people come together – pesky homemade banners at Stamford Bridge, scores of afro-wigged revellers at the Ryder Cup, middle aged men with coqs on their heads at the 6 Nations, Eddie Jordan’s shirts, David Coulthard’s chin….

The Test Match Special (TMS) team have an excellent reputation for being able to strike a popular balance between describing the on-field Cricket action amongst the bigger landscape of weather, spectators, coaches, and unexpected diversions. That is, between the infectious fits of giggles and eating cake! Jonanthan Agnew, Aggers, is one stalwart of the team who has sense. Earlier this week he transferred me to the sun-drenched banks of the University Oval in Dunedin for the first Test between New Zealand and England, but it was a newspaper article he wrote about sport ‘personalities’ last week that made me want to applaud. Thank-you very much Aggers, your talents know no boundaries; you took the words right out of my mouth.  Let me quote the great man commenting on the inflated media reaction of the response by Rafa Benitez in an interview after Chelsea fans gave him some grief from the stands,

“Part of the problem is that the public pronouncements made by many in the sporting world these days are mind-numbingly dull. There are expectations of course, but in the main, press conferences and television interviews are sanitised almost to the point of being worthless…..But it is the media’s fault. In the rush for quotes, and the absurd over-emphasis placed on the importance of what a sportsman or sportswoman has to say, we have created Mr and Mrs Bland.”

As someone who reads the paper from the back pages to the front, I am interested in the opinions of players, previews and reviews from commentators and insider knowledge. In spite of, or perhaps because of this, I feel like I could easily give a bog standard press conference for most of Britain’s major sporting events and fixtures in the calendar. Aside from injury updates, which aren’t always accurate or truthful, there isn’t much more to be gained from a scheduled presentation to the media. As a much more experienced, well-informed, connected and knowledgeable sports fan than me, Aggers is honest enough to voice an opinion that hasn’t come directly off the conveyor belt of stale, benign, exhausted, responses to questions on sport. Now that’s worth listening to.


In sport, what does being White mean?

Sport can be a superb equaliser. If you point two men in the same direction and tell them to run, it’s one versus one, man on man. At its origins sport is simple, run, jump, kick, throw – it doesn’t need to get more complex. How many times have coaches or managers said in post-match press conferences how the team kept things simple or did the basics right?

I live in London – White London? British London? Imperial London? I’m not originally from the capital but I am British, I’m a white female proud to be living under the Union #fleg. This is not usually something I think about but then identity is often a state of mind, your own or somebody else’s. The category we place ourselves in comes to the fore if we feel it is threatened or if we are the minority.

At the weekend I attended an event run by Sport4Women. It was an opportunity to go to my local leisure centre to try out some new activities and meet some like-minded people. I invited a friend to come along with me (a black, South African who I met through a sports club).

There were several sessions we could take part in so we decided to give cricket and rounders a go. As is the nature of these programmes there were some forms to fill out to keep tabs on you, determine who/what you are, other than a woman, and to squeeze feedback from you afterwards. Standard information was sought – name, email address, age, and then ethnic background was asked for. I looked down the list and no-one had ticked White. I looked around the room and no-one was White, except me. This hadn’t occurred to me until the options were presented on paper. I hadn’t felt illuminated because of my whiter than white skin (I’m pale!), nor intimidated, or threatened, or daunted. Neither did I feel like I was making a statement, was the token White person or was boldly stepping out into the bullring. What I thought was, I fancy playing a bit of cricket, should probably go to the hall where the cricket is then.

Once the fact that I was the only White person there was pointed out, I asked myself why was this the case? Was I the only woman who thought the way I did or was I missing something? Should I not have been there in that council run leisure centre in East London? Is that not the kind of place I should hang out in?

The non-White people didn’t seem to mind me being there. I wasn’t left hanging when I went to high-5 my newly founded teammates. Maybe the focus should be on where did all the White people go? Are they too lazy, antisocial, obese, shy or haughty to participate? Maybe the Olympics legacy lasted as long as a lightning Bolt hitting an athletics track.

Sport and identity cannot and will not be separated. Past examples are easy to come-by – Boxer Barry McGuigan, the Black Power salute, South Africa apartheid, athlete Cathy Freeman – all standing up for an identity. But in 2013 in a globalised world, one identity does not exist in isolation. What will not help to educate or inform people is if one group comes out in the world while another shuns the light. Venture out, get involved, say I fancy playing a bit of 5-aside, and go and do it, for the sake of sport and for identity.

Does rugby need mud?

What’s more important in sport, innovation or tradition? Progress or sentiment?

Today Saracens took on Exeter Chiefs in the first rugby premiership game to be played on their new plastic pitch. The Allianz arena contains a 4G surface that is designed to stand up to 30 toothless men simultaneously driving each other into the ground, as well as the British weather that has a history of turning grass pitches into abysmal quagmires.

Last weekend England travelled to Dublin to play Ireland in the 6 Nations. It rained. It rained before kick-off, it poured during the first half, it bucketed during half time and it lashed during the second half. Needless to say, this affected the pitch and therefore the standard of rugby on display (it ended 6-12 with all points coming from penalties).

David Flatman, former prop for England and Bath described the Aviva stadium in his column in Sport magazine, as “more farmland than fairway”. Yet he went on to praise the wondrous mud-lashed winter rugby for all its squelchy glory,

“Rugby at this time of year is grim. The ball is sopping wet and covered in sludge, therefore wide passes are ill-advised, the ground is ploughed up by the gorillas up front, so those who once skated across the pitch are reduced to a plod; and any aesthetically pleasing footwork or snazzy sidesteps are washed away with the rain”

“So why do we need this stodgy, rugby-by-darkness in our lives? Because it’s totally wonderful, that’s why….I am also convinced that no bloke can call himself a bloke until he’s had a good scrap in the mud”.

Designers can make plastic look like grass but they can’t recreate the mud that Flatman speaks of. Is the joy of of sliding over the line for a try, or tackling your teammate because you can’t distinguish the kits or digging molehills out of your ears for hours afterwards resigned to the good old days? Will mock pitches improve the game as the ball sound be easier to handle and ground less slippery under foot? Or will a lack of grass-stained shirts make the line-up of super toned players mean a trip to the rugby looks more like watching a crowded athletics meet? This doesn’t conjuror up images akin to man versus man were adjectivessuch as dogfight, battlefield or trenches appropriately tell the story of the game. Ex-pro Flatman is adamant, “we need mud in our game”.

Winning doesn’t mater? KO losing

I came across a quote earlier today from a well-established racehorse trainer:

“It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, until you lose”

Winning ugly is still better than not winning at all.

Odds would indicate that jockeys should go on to the track expecting to lose. AP McCoy, the greatest of them all convinces himself that he is unbreakable so that he can ride without fear, go hell for leather and ensure the rest finish behind him, even if it is by the slimmest of margins. This has been effective for him many times, but even the 17 times champion has lost more often than he has won.

15-year-old Lydia Ko figured out at an early age how to win on the golf course. The New Zealander has just celebrated her third victory on the professional circuit by finishing top of the leader board at the Clearwater club in Christchurch. Last year she became the youngest winner, female or male of a professional event. It was surprising she took so long to do so since she made the cut in her first pro tournament when she was 12. Her talent, and position in the record books, is likely to be bridled by LPGA rules restricting her involvement on the tour because of her young age. As consolation, perhaps her competition would say, it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, as long as you lose to a protégée likely to redefine the game as a whole.

Winning ugly can be best kind of victory. The relief of grinding it out, of putting every bit of you into it, when it feels like the playing time has dragged on and on for days, is worth it for the sole purpose of not losing again. Just ask the Wales rugby union team how it felt to beat France in Paris last weekend in the 6 Nations. After eight defeats in a row including a new record for home losses, they banged out an ugly win that was met with exhausted smiles of reprieve and hope that they might finally have dug themselves up out of the rut despite many commentators and pundits digging the boot in while they laid low. For Wales, winning mattered.

For reasons unknown to millions across the world, a few hapless people don’t support Manchester United. Apparently Sir Alex Ferguson isn’t to everyone’s taste and neither is the style of player he has instructed his team to produce. United have been criticised for not being spectacular enough of the time. They can be spectacular on occasion, knowing this means ruthless fans of the game want it more and more often, or all the time since that is the job of a footballer. The thing is, Fergie’s boys can still win playing ordinary.  Scoring goals late in a match have the same weight as a score in the first minute, chalking up the W’s is what leads to silverware at the end of the season. Arsenal and Liverpool can both play attractive football but can fail to convert style into substance, particularly within the league format. Not winning really maters to their fans.

Award worthy jam sandwiches fuel World champion

Awards season is here. Suddenly we are all meant to care about fishtail gowns, cocktail dresses and tales of miserable musicals, zoo animals pursuing Canada and the search for a man in a cave. This weekend the British academy dole out the accolades at the annual BAFTA ceremony. Films about sport haven’t made the shortlist, they rarely bag prizes despite some rightly wearing the label Classic. Every other household has a copy of Friday Night Lights, Senna or Raging Bull.

There is much to love about a good sports film with its grit, resolve, ruined relationships, heartache and victory – better spend 90 minutes watching that than edging back from the brink of the Les Mis hopeless, gloomy drama.

Most movies focus on team sports (American football or Basketball), motor racing or boxing but fire up The Flying Scotsman, the story of world champion cyclist Graeme Obree. The script of his life has many of the qualities of a box-office hit – personal turmoil, troubled past, steely determination, and unorthodox approach.

Obree is bipolar so the film tracks how this psychological condition affects his chase to be a champion. His is no mug though, the Scotsman made things happen for himself, he set goals and he achieved what he wanted, overcoming bullies, uncertainties and disappointments to get there.

Graeme Obree's Old Faithful bike

Graeme Obree’s Old Faithful bike (Photo credit: Rab’s Da)

The physical hardship he endured naturally features too. Obree was competing at the same time as Chris Boardman and Miguel Indurain. He had the records of Francesco Moser, Ercole Baldini and Eddy Merckx to inspire him. To become a World Champion you have to beat the other competitors and you have to not allow yourself to lose.

But contemplate this; Obree did it all powered by jam sandwiches, no steroids, peptides or illegal performance enhancing drugs. At this moment in time it is difficult to think of professional cycling without conjuring up images of Lance Armstrong or his name struck off the role of honour. The stench of the shame of his deception, the extent of his betrayal and the lengths he went to to cover-up still hangs in the air but now the focus has shifted to the breaking news of a drug scandal that seems to be rife through Australian sport. Police there are investigating how organised crime units have been supplying banned drugs to athletes, fixing results and influencing betting markets.  The findings of a year long investigation by the Australian Crime Commission have been revealed in part to show the current unethical and illegal behaviour across many codes and disciplines, which were described as still evolving. In a nation that takes so much pride in sporting endeavours and successes, these exposures will hit the people, fans, supporters and the country’s reputation very hard.

It is a far cry from World champions fuelled on marmalade sandwiches.



Sports Toughest Man

Over the weekend just past we saw many examples of awesome physical beings demonstrating their attributes in their chosen sporting amphitheatre.

An early instance was one that couldn’t be missed if you have got up from the sofa, left the telly buzzing, put the kettle on and whipped up your own half-time pies from scratch such is the sheer size of Everton’s Victor Anichebe. The man-mountain, who scored an equaliser against Aston Villa in the Premier league, surely must be fuelled on a diet of medium-rare prized Hereford steaks and an endless supply of spinach (although the Nigerian bears a closer resemblance to Bluto rather than Popeye!)

The 6 Nations kicked off on in Cardiff on Saturday afternoon when big men were not difficult to come by. Despite missing upwards of ten of their preferred playing squad the Welsh could still rely on front row hard man Adam Jones, who settles the scales at around 120kg. His opposite number however, Irelands Mike Ross, beat him to the pies, not the tries making the aforementioned overworked scales squeal under a daunting 127kgs.

I make no apology for pointing out that rugby players are fit. Close observation/ ogling of the Italian and French players backs up this scientific precision. Each side are a fit, strong, sculpted collection of 1st XV Erotes godliness.  And they have stamina, yes, I admire their stamina.

Then there was a whole other category of gym-moulded individuals in the form of the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens. American footballers force their physicality on the world through constant posing and very nearly tighter than skin-tight lycra. Although they wear a considerable amount of body armour so it ain’t all a precious contribution from the almighty above, even if some of them believe they are Gods gift. The Super Bowl is an over the top celebration of a game that essentially only requires one man per team to have a skill while the rest either shove people out of the way or run a lot, usually in a straight line. They love to show off and the public love to see them brag.

Tonight will see the focus shift to a sportsman with immense physical capability, the ability to endure pain and agony like no other, to keep going when he has long since been written off, to get back up when he has been knocked down, beaten, bruised and trampled. All this on a diet of jelly babies and sugary tea. Champion jump jockey Tony McCoy has suffered for his sport. He has fractured his T12 vertebrae, shattered two others, has metal strips in his spine, broken both shoulder blades, ankles, cheekbones, ribs, a wrist, a leg, collar bone, fingers and teeth.

A mud splattered A P McCoy at Worcester races

McCoy at Worcester races (Photo credit: gordon2208)

A sportsman doesn’t have to be pumped, amped and ripped like a Ken doll on steroids. He doesn’t have to flaunt his physical attributes in your face like a shirtless Ronaldo. Jockeys are usually small and they have to make certain weights to get the rides on the best horse. McCoy is 5ft 10ins and around 10 stone 4lbs (he has ridden at 10 stone), although the addition of steel plates, nuts and bolts holding his joints together might add a few pounds.

A different breed – The life of a jump jockey, is on BBC radio 5 Live tonight at 7.30pm. Listen to hear the story of a sportsman who is a physical enigma.