An England win to scream about

I had been keeping a watchful eye on the England netball fixtures list as I was really keen to see them play. The last time I was at an international was when the Commonwealth Games were held in Manchester. My mum had taken the bait I dangled in front of her in the form of a strategic parable unoriginally pilfered from Nikeee, “We should just do it mum, we’ll regret it if we don’t. We might not get the chance again” As a working mum of four children she was/is not one to pass up an opportunity to get the flock outta there; if the door was left ajar it was not one of the babes that needed watching for fear of running fugitive, it was mum.

Now that I’m living in London the thought had crossed my mind that I would have a better chance of going to a match as being in the host country is usually a benefit (this is the part were my fingers tighten into eagle-esque claws as I restrain myself from banging on about the price of trains/flights/petrol/Boris bikes). But netball seems to follow the pattern favoured by another sport not considered mainstream, rugby league, by chiefly staying out of chuffing London. Whether happily not breaching the inner circle of the M25 and being classified a minor sport in this country are related is a question for another time. Eight teams make up the Netball Super League (NSL) with the most southern side being Surrey Storm based in Guildford. There is a Welsh team, the Celtic Dragons that play their home fixtures in Cardiff. I make this point because as the NSL is the highest level for club sides they have a fan base or following in the region. A region that is near London therefore it is not unreasonable to assume that every so often a premier international fixture should be held in the capital.

World number one side Australia were the opposition for this three-match series being hosted in Bath, Wembley arena and the NEC in Birmingham. So to north London I headed along with 7,000 other spectators to witness if victory in the opening game the previous weekend was as a result of Aussie jetlag, wardrobe malfunction in terms of tying shoelaces together or simply lucky.

This is unfair; it is a redundant attitude of sporting fixtures between the two nations hanging around like a lazy koala bear up a tree on a sunny afternoon in Steve Irwin’s zoo. As it turned out, an experienced England side built on success garnered from the 2011 World Fast Net series win and a useful Test series in the southern hemisphere last year.

Remarkably, being in Brent, the whole night was a joy. I challenge anyone, fan of netball, sports enthusiast or not, to have felt differently. The match was tight, seesawing between the sides until the hosts edged clear in the final quarter and held on to win by 2 points. The crowd was loud, the wee girl squealing into my right ear from the first whistle should really have received some sort of grand recognition for superior lung capacity, or made to sign a medical contract so science could eventually benefit from exploring her unnaturally large lungs.

Coach Anna Mayes instilled a sense of confidence into her players so they trusted their significant abilities. The delight on the faces of the squad after the final whistle was exciting to see as this win meant a series victory over the Diamonds for the first time ever. The mood was summed up when two of the players literally did cartwheels and backflips in celebration.

Interest in netball is steadily increasing, as is the number of participants. There is no reason why this sport should not get significant media coverage; it has everything a finger-twitching journalist looks for in women’s sport– Pretty girls? Yes, High standard? Yes, Role models? Yes,  Success? Yes, yes, yes

Come On Football – Catch yourself on

FIFA, UEFA, FA, Ronald McDonald, Kate Middleton, please, anyone with a modicum of power stop this embarrassing hash that is the lack of goal line technology in football. The man with the wand has proved far from magic as the extra official refuses to make a decision.

Any Englishman who tried to justify the Ukraine goal by regurgitating the Frank Lampard/World Cup fiasco should bury his head in shame. Much drivel was spouted during post match interviews and phone-ins last night claiming that because Jorge Larrionda didn’t allow the goal against Germany two years ago that was somehow tough luck for Ukraine in 2012, in the Euros, a competition they are hosting, in a game were England were out played, when Rooney headed in a goal from three feet out after it had taken at least two deflections and skidded off the turf on the way across the box. As I’m sure St George would agree, two wrongs don’t make a right. Look at Ashley Cole’s hair for example. The right side is as daft as the left side and together, his style is wrong, as far away from right as James Milner is from winning the Golden Boot award.

Football needs to catch on and catch up.

Euro 2012 – How was the football in the Group stages?

Players sent off, a surprise defeat of one of the tournament favorite’s, a fervent victory for the host nation and just one draw – The first games of the group phase of Euro 2012 have been completed, so where are we now? What have we learnt? Who should I put a tenner on now?

In Group A Russia are were the standout performers putting four past the Czech Republic to top score after the first round. Andrey Arshavin, playing his club football at Zenit St Petersburg, was instrumental in much of the positive, attacking play on display. Co-hosts Poland and Greece finished with a 1-1 draw in a match were the referee made the headlines when he sent off the unpronounceable Sokratis Papastathopoulos for two tame yellow cards as well as Poland and Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.

In the actual group of death containing Denmark, the Netherlands, Portugal and Germany there was a monumental success for the Danes when they beat 2010 World cup finalists 1-0 setting up the remaining fixtures in the group as tantalizingly important match-ups. Portugal who came through the play-off route to get to the Finals were only roused to life once Mario Gomez had headed the Germans into the lead. Joachim Loew’s side lived up to their clinical ruthlessness by being certain to dispatch one of their few chances.

The second tier group of death, Group C, didn’t produce particularly surprising results as Spain and Italy ended 1-1 and Croatia defeated the Republic of Ireland 3-1, but the outcomes do leave an air of unpredictability if Croatia can maintain the pace they started with.

France came into the tournament unbeaten in their last 21 games with a third of this total being draws. That is exactly what they got against England, despite going one goal down Manchester City striker Samir Nasri secured a point for les Blues. Surely the best of the group stage games was kept to last as co-host Ukraine took on Sweden in Kiev. The home side was inspired by their star man Andriy Shevkenko who scored twice to force his side to a 2-1 win. Having to come from behind seemed to ignite the passion of the players who were determined to perform for their enthusiastic supporters. On paper the Ukraine were the underdogs but as is often the case, the honour of hosting appeared to give them the impetus to succeed; upsets can bring the whole competition to life.

The second round of group matches get underway tonight when Poland take on Russia in Warsaw while Greece hope to improve against the Czech Republic at the Municipal Stadium, Wroclaw.

England – what is wrong with Steven Gerrard?

English: Steven Gerrard playing for Liverpool ...

Gerrard - good enough for Liverpool but not England?

What does Steven Gerrard have to do to get a deserved break with England? He is finally fit, he has been a consistently strong player for his national team and he gives 100% each time he gets picked to play.

John Terry has made a fiasco of the England captaincy, Rio Ferdinand doesn’t want it, Frank Lampard can’t get a look in and while Scott Parker seems like a thoroughly sound character with leadership credentials worthy of a captain, Gerrard has been in the frame longer. He has captained Liverpool, supposedly one of the greatest football clubs in the world to major success including the  Champions League and yet he still gets snubbed by England. Take nothing away from Parker; in different circumstances he would be an admirable choice. There is not a debate to made that England have an abundance of leaders at the minute, with the squad and approached favoured by caretaker manager Stuart Pearce, Gerrard and Parker are it.  The thought that Gerrard is at best fourth choice to take the armband now, or for the up-coming Euros, is difficult to believe. What Herculean qualities do England selectors look for in a captain? Is a candidate who doesn’t have their martial affairs, disloyal relationships and/or racist allegations emblazoned across every tabloid from Barking to Brisbane not enough?

Sporting Oscars

What do people who are not interested in sport do with their weekends? It’s a mystery. Having just four television channels, not the full fat, wall-to-wall, obesity inducing, pocket robbing Sky Sports package, three rugby matches, one Cup final and spring time horse racing were on show over two days as well as highlight programmes of football league action and the 6 Nations competition. Individually and collectively the performances produced more drama, excitement, heartache and release than many of the films nominated for a Hollywood Oscar did. Sportsmen and women often lament the highs and lows of winning medals or silverware, ranking one performance against another but the truth is, they would rather have the award than not. So stand up, show some leg and accept this weekends Sporting Oscars…..

Best performance – Cardiff City. This is not a sympathetic vote; the Championship side defied themselves and science by staying upright as many of the team suffered cramp and beyond exhausted exhaustion. The Bluebirds literally gave everything they had to force the tie into extra time so much so that Rudy Gestede nearly didn’t make it as far as the ball when he came forward to take a spot kick.

Best leading man – Sam Warburton. What is this man made off? Strong, determined, hard as nails but clever and alert with it.

Best storyline – Gerrard and Gerrard. Cousins and opponents on the day of the Carling Cup final, both miss penalties yet one is the hero lifting the cup high.

Best drama – England nearly scoring a try in the final minute of the game against Wales. It wasn’t a try though and Wales went on to celebrate a victory and the Triple Crown, the champagne tasting all the sweeter as they paraded around Twickenham and under England’s noses.

Best twist – Arsenal versus Tottenham. This script could not have been written. Arsenal off the back of a couple of losses but more worryingly a few hideous performances went two down and deservedly so. The switched was flicked and team suddenly caught up with the imagination of the writer as five goals, scored by four different players, hit the back of the net and at the same time the reality button for Tottenham and their supporters. Yea they are a good team but nothing can be taken for granted yet, they are not guaranteed third spot or Champions League football just yet.

Best reaction – Tom Court. The front row scored a try against Italy when the game was dead and buried as a contest but celebrated like he had just secured the World Cup for his country

Best name – Dodging Bullets. The unfortunately named horse didn’t win the Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle at Kempton, finishing behind Baby Mix ridden by a jockey whose name always invokes a smirk for less literal reason, Robert ‘Choc’ Thornton.

Best newcomer – Stuart Hogg .The 19 year old scored the opening try for Scotland on his home debut proving that his side were not actually physically repelled from the try line but were able to cross the whitewash and claim five point to out the wind up a stagnant French team.

Best oldcomer – Ryan Giggs. As far as the Welshman is concerned it has all been said before but then he keeps setting new records and breaking old ones. On his 900th appearance for Manchester United Giggs scored an injury time winner that ensures his team remain only two points shy of city rivals.