Sunday, November 21, 2010

Lucas and the baby

Did something I'd never done before last week. Our magazine had been waiting to hear back from Australia captain Lucas for a pre-Asia Cup interview. He was meant to call 'the other guy' but had been caught up. About 6pm I'm standing in the kitchen with baby slop going everywhere, her face, the floor, deep down into the creases of the high chair.Nearby two boys are at war, the din like the dying moments of the Manchester derby...
The phone rings and it's a private number. I must have been distracted because I hardly ever answer those.
"Hi Tony it's Lucas N, is now a good time?" I made a flash judgement, literally minutes of research had indicated the man is sharing his life with twins under three... I'd never done it before... "Ah no actually, I'm just feeding the baby, could you call back in 15?"... "Ah yeah sure, do you want longer?" It was a nervous 15 minutes spent staring at the avocado enciusted mug of a 10 month old while Billy Bragg lyrics jolted around my head.... "Once upon a time at home I sat beside the telephone, waiting for someone to call me through, when at last it didn't ring I knew it wasn't you."
I imagined the player telling his agent and the whole careful negotiation falling to the floor with chunks of half chewed meatballs. The nearby war broke into a moment of golden truce. Baby R scoffed her last. And the phone rang. Nice bloke, that Lucas.I'm not sure a 25-year-old without a kid would have bothered ringing back. It was something I'd never done before and I don't think I'd do it again.
   

Monday, September 20, 2010

Andrew Lloyd's 1990 win, is it still our favourite Com Games moment?

Early in 2006, ABC Grandstand polled its listeners and came up with a list of Australia's top 25 sporting moments. At 25th was the only Commonwealth Games entrant on the list - Andrew Lloyd's remarkable 5000m victory in 1990. I saw the race and then, later in 2006 spoke to Lloyd about it. He was stunned that so many people were inspired by his come from nowhere victory. With the Games approaching again and Lloyd's story being told in a TV ad to promote them, I thought I'd give the story a re-run here.



Lloyd's Lap Of Honour Is Still An Inspiration
Sun-Herald

Sunday February 26, 2006

Andrew Lloyd tells Tony Harper about Australia's favourite Commonwealth Games moment.

ANDREW Lloyd is still being run off his feet. Now it's the challenge of twin boys nearing their terrible twos that soaks up the energy of the 47-year-old. Sixteen years ago, it was the twin Kenyan terrors of Olympic champion John Ngugi and world record-holder Yobes Ondieki, conquered on the way to one of the most remarkable wins seen on an athletics track.
How Lloyd overcame these champions, and several more besides, in the 5000-metre final at the 1990 Commonwealth Games roused a nation. There remain, much to Lloyd's eternal surprise, many who were inspired by his incredible final lap and lunge for gold.
"I still get people coming up in the street now, saying 'That's the best race I've ever seen'," he says.
ABC radio's Grandstand recently compiled a fans' choice of the 25 most memorable Australian sporting events. Never mind Kieren Perkins's 1500m world record, Cathy Freeman's flag-waving celebrations or the collected works of Ian Thorpe.
The only Commonwealth Games performance considered worthy was Lloyd's race in Auckland.
At first, Lloyd didn't understand the fuss. Sure, it was a performance of great sporting courage. But he had shown greater reserves in recovering from the death of his first wife Lynn in a car accident five years before.
It wasn't until Lloyd watched a replay of his run that he got it.
"I had no idea I was that far back and how hard I came home," he says. "Watching the replay, I thought: 'I wouldn't have put a million dollars on myself to make up that distance'. I was gobsmacked."
It was a strange race of thrills and spills. Ngugi was first down, hitting the track on the second lap but bouncing up and breaking away.
Ondieki tumbled on lap five and that effectively ended his challenge. Lloyd had settled in the third pack at the rear.
"It wasn't until four laps out that we started making inroads on the second group and we went past them two laps out," he says. "With a lap to go, Ngugi had about 40-50 metres on us, which is a fair way."
With 150m left, Lloyd had the rest beaten and Ngugi was moving as if he was jogging in a swimming pool.
"I thought I wasn't going to make it but I squeezed past him a metre before the finish," Lloyd says. "He had no time to respond."
The tiny margin of victory, the passion that went into it and Lloyd's triumph over injury and tragedy made an irresistible package.
"I must have captured a lot of people's imaginations," he says. "But I think the people calling the race on TV made it seem more dramatic - they were falling out of their seats."
Television loves a good redemption tale, and Lloyd's was a beauty. Five years before his defining race, he was driving through Braidwood when his life took a disastrous detour.
"We had a head-on with a truck," he says. "It went around the corner on the wrong side and tore the roof off the car. I was driving and was pinned to the steering wheel.
"My good friend, Nick de Castella [Rob's brother] was sitting next to me and he had minor injuries.
"My wife was sitting behind me and she . . . she didn't make it. That was a real heart-stopper."
Lloyd was born to run, so he put distance between him and the worst day of his life. There were countless kilometres and six knee operations in the next five years.
Yet, with a lap of the final to go, Lloyd remained a million miles from the place he needed to be. Then it came, that lung-busting, majestic lap.
"I felt great relief," he says. "I'd come back from the accident and had to start from scratch. I'd been told I'd never race again. And it brought closure from the accident."
Lloyd, who has a new knee, has slowed down but his love of racing never waned. "I'm still jogging, still doing the odd marathon and still running the City to Surf," he says. "I was in the top 200 last year."
Now he's running after his boys, Jackson and Cooper, at their home at Grays Point. You can hear it down the phone line, that crazy cacophony of a two-year-old boy - times two.
One day, instead of a Wiggles DVD, their old man might put in a tape of his greatest race. They'll wonder how. They'll be gobsmacked.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sydney Olympics: 10 years, 10 memories

It's 10 years since the Sydney Olympic Games opened. I thought I'd try to do a list of 10 'memories' - that is without resorting to my favourite crutch, Google.


10. Where's your head at?
At the time I was living in Annandale, NSW and my son was 18 months old. I was deputy sports editor at the Sun-Herald, which meant I had a middling important editing job on the Fairfax Olympics desk in Sussex Street. A very strange gig. Having been to the two previous editions as (primarily) a track and field writer with AAP, I was used to working in the stadiums and with a narrow focus. This was a lot different, big picture editing - going to work in your usual workplace, and having days off, which never happened while working for AAP overseas.

9. That Melbourne-Sydney thing.
The Age newspaper came to town and that whole Alpha male nonsense started to happen on the desk straight away. In those times, and I can only assume still, the prevailing wisdom was that if you worked for the "other" paper you couldn't write/ edit/ be trusted. Each paper had their rounds people and each editing staff pretended to have absolute faith in their own. Anything filed by the other paper's reporter was rubbish, at best, "take in AAP" at worst. Caroline Wilson? Never heard of her. Peter FitzSimons? Is that English he's writing?

8. Getting tickets was a pain
Having previously wandered around the Olympics with an all access pass and without family members, I found the whole ticket ballot issue confusing. Surely this wouldn't sell out? We did enter the ballot and got nothing. I remember the stories blowing up in Games Minister Michael Knight's face and the promise of more tix being made available from the premium pool. I remember thinking "yeah, right" but then in the redraw we got Cathy Freeman tickets. Love ya, Mike.

7. The hierarchy at play
Being an editor, I was entitled to some free tickets through Fairfax. These were handed out by someone's PA who was following a strict hierarchy. The big guys got the good stuff, and I got the baseball. Imagine my surprise when I scored two tickets to the Ian Thorpe v Pieter Van Whatsit 200m final. My wife was pumped, but I got gazumped by a phone call on the afternoon. "Ah, I have to reassign those tickets, I can offer you the gymnastics gala instead."  I wasn't that bothered, but we had a babysitter so she made me find scalper tickets. I have never told anyone else but her this: We paid $1000 for two tickets to watch Ian Thorpe lose a swimming race. $1150 if you count the babysitter and the beer I was crying in.

6. Eric the Eel
We got swimming heats in the ballot. The seats were way back in that temporary stand and the pool was a long ways away so I couldn't be sure. "Is that guy drowning?" I asked my wife. "Should I go help?"
It was, of course, before twitter (OMG. Most. Hilarious. Swim. Ever. LOL). And I can't recall having text on the phone I lugged around in a large backpack. I recall sitting there, in that way of a journalist, thinking "Shit, what a story, I wonder if the Fairfax guys have seen this." I took out binoculars and saw Mike Cowley across the pool head down typing away! He's missed it! I have to get to him!  When Eric stopped at every TV crew, I took a deep breath and went back to sleep.

5. This is going to be a disaster
The Olympics bring a whole shit storm of negative publicity. I'd quit my previous job because of it. The internet age meant that Australian newspapers were put up online sometime around 2-3am which in the long year before the Games meant I was getting 2-3 calls a week from the imbecile AP Olympics editor, based in New York. "The Daily Telegraph is running a front page report that an IOC official got off a plane at 3pm and couldn't get a taxi. He finally flagged one down and the driver said he could only drop him at Stanmore." You couldn't make up the drivel that the Sydney papers  with their designated Olympics writers passed off as news. And it was all negative.

4. The greatest Games, ever
It really was. Four years earlier we had the worst, in Atlanta. A dump of a town, an angry populace, a searing climate. Sydney was perfect. The weather, the parties in the streets, the fireworks, Marie Jose-Perec's dummy spit. Every little thing worked. Germany 2006 reminded me of it, but nothing else has come close.

 
3. The beach volleyball
I never went. But my wife did with four girlfriends and they descended on us in Martin Place while we were trying to watch the big screen at the live site. Five of them, having been drinking all day in the sun, flopping on the paving stones among the disdainful suits from the nearby banks. The 18-month old looking at his mum and his 'aunties' like they had been possessed. Mayhem.

2. Fairweather fans
The Sydney-Melbourne hostilities ceased for a glorious hour or so as South Asurtalia's Simon Fairweather won our country's only archery gold medal.  It was like that story of the German and English troops pausing on Christmas for a game of football, before resuming their bloodshed. As soon as the anthem was over, it all started up again. I can't remember who filed on it, but I'm certain the Sydney reporter's copy was superior.

1. Cathy
I met Cathy Freeman when I was covering schools athletics, and spent a decent amount of time sitting next her in the stands during the 1990 Com Games. Always shy, always sweet. Where that 400m performance came from, under that immense pressure, I'll never understand. A memory as strong as any other: Us above the 300m mark, her rounding the bend for home, a wall of noise carrying her to the line and then her body gives way.  

Friday, September 3, 2010

A-League types will be stunned by opposition to their anti-diving crusade, but it's the moral thing to do

I play Masters football with a guy who came back to the game last year after 20 playing rugby league for the biggest team in our local area. He walked into the local club after a recent game and the league boys were there. Where you been? Playing soccer. "Do any diving?" they chorused.
We all know simulation is a blight. Newspapers, particularly in England, have campaigned against it, Grosso (or That Cheating Italian as he's known to the majority of our casual sports watchers) smashed us with it, Denilson made it a little dirty for us all to be football fans.
We're sick of justifying it and sick of fans of other Australian codes sneering at us.
So what do we football fans do when we get a chance to make a clear point, one possibly considered around the world? We bottle it. We line up the loudest voices in the game to decry the FFA for acting in haste. Tonight, Robbie Slater claimed Mariner Perez was wronged by his suspension and the fans were cheated.
Yet in the case of Perez and Baird, there is absolutely no doubt that they flung themselves theatrically to ground. There is, however doubt, over the contact they might have received.
Some of the voices are the same who defended Danielle De Rossi at the World Cup when a slight tug on his shirt saw him dive disgracefully full length and 'earn' his team a penalty and a draw with New Zealand.
I can only imagine Ben Buckley and his team's thoughts this week. I assume they thought they were doing a fine and noble deed by bringing some type of resolution to a debate which has grown in volume but gone absolutely nowhere. They would have expected to been lauded throughout the country - the men who stopped the soccer cheats.
As an AFL man you know what Buckley's personal view on diving would be. His head of media is a rugby league man - a Parramatta fan above all - and there is no tolerance, no culture, of diving in that game. For them there is no doubt: this is the right thing to do. The sport is failing to connect in the Australian community and they must act on this. Putting an end to the disgrace of diving is a valid cause. 
Forget the technicalities and short term pain for the greater good. Ban the divers. These two might not have been the worst examples ever, but you have to start somewhere and it's a sign of strength that the FFA started at all.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Is MasterChef to blame for the deluge of wannabe sports writers with a `passion'?

Dear Doctor Smith,


I have visited doctors for many years, ever since my first day on this planet in fact. I have a passion for health, or not getting sick at least, and I think that passion stands me in good stead for a career in medicine. Can you tell me if there is any particular type of surgery you might be interested in me doing? I am a big fan of breasts, so perhaps you might want me to handle some enlargements?

Regards

Tony
I sent this off to a local quack today. I got the idea from a dozen or so people who have contacted me in the past week. I figure being a cosmetic surgeon pays better than being a sports editor. And it's a more intellectual pursuit than reflecting on the musings of H Kewell and R Slater.

Everyone it seems, loves their sport. And everyone who loves their sport, it seems, feels they have to write about it. For me. Now some from the "outside world" actually do. I know a dentist who is on the way to getting something published in Inside Cricket, and a successful engineer who managed to sneak into the pages of Football+. But the supply of sports fans who believe they can write because they have a 'passion'  is far outstripping the demand.

It's been a couple of years since I last edited sports mags and now I have two on the go. From memory there has been a surge in the number of the FWLs (Fans With Laptops) looking for a chance to follow this "passion", in quotes for that is the constant word.

I don't know what the reason is for this increase, but a lack of knowledge has never stopped me charging in with uniformed opinion before, so I have narrowed it down to one of two things: Masterchef; or the rise of sports opinion websites.

First things first. Because of MasterChef hundreds of corporate lawyers and start up accountants have been encouraged to throw down their pens and pick up their pans. Often it's a disaster. The passion might be there but if you are going to succeed you better bring game. It's the same in my business and for every Adam turning out exquisite treats, there are 100 Jimmys and their plates full of dull fried rice.

While not word for word, here's the gist.

Dear Mr Harper,
I have played cricket all my life. I would like to interview Steve Waugh for Inside Cricket because I think he'd have some interesting things to say. If you are interested please send me Steve's number and let me know how many words you want. I don't require payment for this.

There are many staggering parts to this type of approach, the main one being how ubiquitous it is. And next staggering? The last line.

Before the World Cup I happened across a news story or two which didn't have a place in Football+. I am a freelancer myself (please, no questions about my passion ... Dear Arsene, I think I could do a better job in goal than that...) and within rights to sell this elsewhere. I approached a major football website. (No, not them, them). I was told I could write it but couldn't get paid - plenty of people would be happy to submit stories for a byline. Last time I checked, you couldn't eat, drink or pay for games of pinball with the words "By Tony Harper" . . .

Now there are plenty of sports opinion sites and plenty of bylines and not much money being handed out. It seems there are plenty of lawyers and accountants and chefs looking to get their names in print for passion.

Don't get me wrong. We publish freelancers. If you have a great cricket or football story I want it. But you need the right ingredients. You need to write like a writer and pitch like a journalist and you need to convince me I want to read it. And if you can do all that, we'll even pay you. But no, we won't give you Steve Waugh's phone number.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Australia's new coach unveiled

 The Socceroos have a new coach. German Holger Osieck is eight years older than Pim Verbeek and as little known here as the Dutchman was before he was given the task of following Guus Hiddink after 2006. Osieck was Franz Beckenbauer's assistant for Germany in 1990 and has an unspectacular career , including four years at Canada. Frank Lowy said he spoke to Beckenbauer about Osieck's character.
Already, questions are being asked if the appointment, underwhelming for those hungering for a higher profile man, is a political masterstroke or part of a continual decline. Lowy, say some, has moved to appoint the German as part of machinations to secure Beckenbauer's vote on the 2022 World Cup.
Osieck said he was first approached at the World Cup, where he was representing FIFA,  and is being charged with invigorating the youth development of the country. There are obvious  toes being stood on, not least those of the people already charged with that mission.
The decision brings a German in alongside Han Berger, a Dutchman, a potentially interesting meeting of minds.
A notable part of the announcement was the inability of media to nail down the name. Lowy said eight candidates had been interviewed, including some big names, but it was Osieck's personal quality rather than star factor that secured him the job.
Osieck was with FFA types in Slovenia ahead of tonight's game. That they could walk around with the Socceroos' new boss comfortable in the knowledge no one capable of leaking the news would recognise him is the clearest indicator of how anonymous this man was, before today.
That's all changed. He is already being hammered on his style and his answers are already Verbeekian: "You can not put the game into attacking or defending. Your game must be based on a structure where everyone has to follow. I won't say I have the ultimate sytem. It's always a flexible one."
Guus Hiddink was a No.1 coach. Verbeek was a number two and hated the pressure of the Australian spotlight so much he took up a youth job before he even got to South Africa.
Who knows how this will pan out? Osieck will be closing in on 66 at the next World Cup, if he stays that long. Let's hope he can get back there 20 years after the current top point on his coaching CV.

Friday, July 30, 2010

What's driving FFA's reluctance to rally the faithful?

IF any FIFA inspection members paused long enough during their Koala-cuddling whistlestop tour this week to grab a copy of the local edition of English mag FourFourTwo, they would have had to flick a long way back - page 89 of the 92 in fact - to find significant mention of the 2022 World Cup bid.
This is cause for embarrassment, but not on the part of the magazine, which was out a few days before the FIFA team landed in Sydney. Their interview with FFA boss Ben Buckley was so predictably dire the only surprise to me is 442 bothered with it at all. I assume if they had 150 pages, it would have been on 147.
At a time when the non-believers in Australia find excuses why we don't need this tournament Down Under, we require, at the helm of football, an inspirational leader. Someone able, through power of personality, to unify the country behind the game. Or least be bothered enough to have a go at it. Someone with passion. What we need is a suit who talks like a fan. Like John O'Neill perhaps - who saw which way the wind was blowing and gave us Guus Hiddink in 2005. What we have is a suit who talks like a suit, from Vinnies. Who gave us Pim Verbeek.
Buckley's performance at the World Cup itself, when trying to dampen down rumours of Australian team disharmony, but instead turning it into international news, was emblematic. Smiling serenely and avoiding the real questions in text book "look how I've been coached to deal with the media" style he did nothing to make the rumours go away. The only purpose of the whole stage-managed event seemed to be framing Buckley as leader - but it was all style, never about substance. His every word can be found in the management manuals clogging up your local book chain. The jaw is moving but what ever gets said?
I found the 442 reaction to Buckley's latest missed opportunity to raise passions within the heartland interesting. "FourFourTwo spoke to ... Buckley and garnered about as much information as someone with an internet connection and the ability to type 'Australia World Cup' bid into Google." Nice line. Their dissatisfaction seemed to be that Buckley had nothing to say to them. My belief is Buckley just has nothing to say to any of us.
The magazine I edit, Football+, was seeking to do a big feature for our new edition, talking up our World Cup bid with interviews with Buckley and Frank Lowy.
Our Associate Editor, Matthew Hall, requested some face time with the pair in South Africa. When they belatedly responded we were granted, instead, the opportunity to send in some questions via email which they might reply to if they had time. Judging by the fruits of 442's 15-minute hard labour, we made the right decision to decline.
 If the two people charged with spending $40 million of government money couldn't work up the enthusiasm to spruik up their bid and rally hundreds of thousands of committed football fans - those who spent a deal of money buying Football+ and 442 and the other football mags before the World Cup - then why should we be that bothered?
Had they figured that if Bill Clinton was giving interviews about 2022, when not cosying up to Sepp Blatter, there was not really much point wasting their breath?
Soccer Australia, or the FFA as they are now known, have had some, well, colourful people at the helm, and I'm not suggesting Buckley needs to tread down those same dim alleyways. But something more showy, something more alive, something more "Sepp" might not be a bad thing.
I wonder what Blatter makes of Buckley. And our bid. I'd like to ask Buckley about his relationship with Sepp, and plenty more besides. Like what will he do if we lose the bid and the A-League crowds and finances continue to fall this year. But even if he would pick up the phone, I'm not sure he has that much to say.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

From the acoustic coupler Com Games to the Twitter World Cup

I'm sitting high above the halfway line in Durban, with a paper notebook, TV monitor with replays and a laptop hooked to superfast internet line. On one screen I have the FIFA matchcast, giving its running text commentary and, on another, the story header for the running copy I'm filing to The Associated Press. On a third screen is my Twitter feed and on a fourth the Word folder with all the background bio I've prepared on the players.
Far below, on that brilliant patch of green, Australia and Germany are going for each other but there is so much electronic noise and, with having to file a fresh story every 15 minutes throughout the game, I find I'm drawn to what it means on one of the two screens, rather than seeing the action myself.
This was the first Twitter World Cup and it has changed the way millions are now interacting during sporting events.
The Twitter feed works on many levels. There are friends and family from home. There are constant statistical updates from services such as Infostrada and Otpa; there is live, bite-sized, opinion from football literatti such as @sidlowe or @marcotti; there are fans who you might follow but don't know, who give you a quick poll, a mood, like a verbal worm in an election debate. "Grella can't hold ball, #aus are getting killed in midfield #ger #worldcup...".
Perhaps most interestingly, you can eavesdrop into the thoughts of other media people, often rivals, and see the genesis of what they will be writing later for their employers. It also, strangely, brings you closer to people you might have been wary of in the past. Twitter can be getting your message out to a "massive", to promote your employer by linking to your work, but it can also be quite personal too. I 'met' several journos this way this way before we met in person. And I found them funny and smart and likeable before I met them too. As well as after.

I spent six years from late 1990 to post Atlanta Olympics as AAP's track and field writer. There were some people who did that round for the papers who I respected a great deal, but I never got to know them beyond professional courtesy and what I could glean of their personalities from how they were in press conferences or in print.

Twitter, if you follow the right folk, gives you a mass of information, in fact often way too much information. Carles Puyol heads in a winning goal against Germany and, within, a minute, we have two stats companies telling us that it was his only attempt on target in 13 matches at a World Cup finals. Once upon a time, if you wanted such an offbeat stat, you would have needed to keep very good notes. Later, with the rise of stats data bases, you might have been able to search it online if you had the thought to. Now, you just flick a switch and information like this flows in a torrent - at times during the World Cup, Italy's dramatic loss to Slovakia being one such time and Spain v Chile another -  the surge was far too much for the technology and the service melted down.

Twitter has delivered up more information than you need so the danger is you accept what is there and don't go looking for what isn't. Or you don't think enough for yourself, you let the consensus think for you. Look at Howard Webb's performance in the World Cup final. My opinion: he handled a tough job well and the players were shown up variously as crude, unsporting and as moaners. But Twitter's loudest voices decided he was to blame, and the mass blame game started, not as it might have in the past with some comments from players, but as soon as he peeped for the last time.

Twenty years ago I headed off for the Auckland Commonwealth Games, my first "major" event as a sportwswriter. I had just started at AAP in Brisbane but hadn't been there long enough to make their team so took holidays and wrote for APN's regional papers, targetting Queensland country athletes such as Cathy Freeman, and writing under the byline Grant Forster, a name taken from a couple of Brisbane musicians who were extremely important to me in 1990.
I remember the majority of my baggage allowance was chunky sports media guides and a huge wad of paper notes and photocopies - research I'd done from clipping files on the swimmers, athletes and lawn bowlers I would be covering at the event.
My means of filing was a tandy with four lines of text and an acoustic coupler. This was pretty much the setup.



IN South Africa last month, my Acer suffered from charge issues and, a few minutes before having to file running copy every 15 minutes on Serbia v Australia, it gave a blue screen of death and shut down. The biggest problem I remember from the above set up was the rubber rings on the acoustic coupler, which kept coming off if wrongly attached to the public phone you were using. Editing your copy was maddening though - because you could only see four lines at a time. The good thing: most papers had copytakers back then, or at least someone, usually a jealous desk-bound mate, who was happy to take it all down.

I grew up with technology from this very basic point, until the 2003 Rugby World Cup, after which I morphed into Mr Mom. In between those years, Google (and I hear there are other other search engines out there) came to life and life on the road became less reliant on heavy wads of hard copy research.

As a news junkie, back in the live coverage game, I enjoy Twitter. No, that's not strong enough. As with any junkie, I need Twitter. Even when I left South Africa and watched the later games from the couch, I had Twitter there with me in case there was something, like that Puyol stat, I might have missed. Or to chat with people on the ground, to find out what I wanted to know, and not just what others thought I wanted to know.
It is enjoyable and essential, for me. But what I'm not saying is that Twitter is a good thing, just as the 40 smokes a day I enjoyed through my 20s weren't good either.

In 2000, on a night off from the Fairfax Olympic desk, I went to Homebush, as a paying customer, to watch Cathy Freeman win the 400m. It's still the most exhilarating experience I've ever shared with more than one person at a time. And I'm grateful now I got to watch it, feel it and understand and process it my own way, without a Twitter addiction.

Twenty years ago in Mount Smart Stadium Grant Forster could never had envisaged Google or Twitter. The man who was briefly him wonders what is coming in the next 20.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Blunt friends, dead friends

Went to dinner last night and the boys were all talking World Cup, of course, having a great laugh. "You didn't have a good time did you?" came a question from the more sensitive end of the table... It wasn't the experience of Germany, work and the circumstances of Africa saw to that, but I wondered why she had had asked. "Your blog wasn't funny like last time." Reality check. And she is right.
Germany led itself to more humour. It was hard finding laughs in South Africa, where you pay someone to "look after" your car in a car park in broad daylight. Where there is obvious unending poverty around the next bend, or behind the next clump of burning bush. Where people are getting ripped off, or shot, by their own... Or you are being warned about holding a phone while walking down a nice middle class street in a country town the size of Ipswich. Where the humour of crowds and the songs that set them apart is nullified with a long loud drone.
Oh, there I go again...
The 2010 World Cup is funnier from back here. I've been on local radio a few times in the past two weeks reflecting on the latest games and stories. The Octopus is much funnier from here. Tim Cahill is much more heroic.
Tumbleweeds have been blowing through the blog. I remember four years ago, we came home and kept right on joking. We bought Harry Kewell's used drink bottle in an eBay auction. Bloody eBay, it never did turn up (nor did I ever send the 1 euro, I guess). We joked right on about Ashley Cole and ZZ blowing his top and headbutting Materazzi.
This time it was -  I guess because I'm in the middle of a 5000 words tournament wrap and a 160 page magazine IS - work.
The find memories this time will be all about the game. And Bob.
Two weeks ago I was at South Africa v Uruguay and my laptop presented me with the 'blue screen of death" just as I was coming to the end of a Diego Forlan story. It wouldn't restart so the boss of AP's coverage at the game, Bob Millward, sat patiently while I tapped it all out again on his machine, well after midnight.
Today I found out, from Twitter, that Bob died of a heart attack in his hotel room after the semifinal two days ago. I've known him 15 years but only worked with him a few times. Died alone in a hotel room working at the World Cup. There's nothing funny in that.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

On the road


On the road today to Rustenburg for US v Ghana, second round knockout. A thick blanket of smoke followed us all the way from Joburg (three hours). Rustenburg has the World  Cup coming to town, with the richest nation in tow,  so they react by burning off acres of grass beside the road and turning the sky a feral gray which stinks of burnt toast and stinkng . No idea how players run around in altitude and abrasive smoke. It comes as no shock that the pampered Euro players want out of this place as soon as possible.

Friday, June 25, 2010

So it isn't the end


The show goes on without timmy and h. In pretoria before chile v spain and watching brazil and portugal on big screen. Just spotted a big tub full of live oysters. Way to a mans heart and all that.'
While Australia's Italian fans moaned about being misunderstood, there were many Australian fans having the time of their lives. As the temperature dipped the locals burned much wood and many snags. The Chile fans invaded the stage and the Spanish boys were content with    writng the number 10 oon its of paper and flashing them any pretty girl walking by.
Looking forward to an epic match Spain v Chile.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The End


Sitting on a bus to Ellis Park for Italy v Slovakia after four hour drive from Nelspruit. The sign on the way out of town, sums it  up.  Have now finished working for The Associated Press and get to kick back and watch some games for fun. Was hoping to avoid thinking about last night but the bus is playing Crocodile Dundee on the TV. Paul Hogan: Another battling Aussie who never really took the next step up on the world stage. Great game against Serbia. Saw a bit later on replay but TV didn't do justice to the noise level and the tension. Well done our fans for drowning out the vuvu for a few minutes at least.
 Brett Holman: bloody hell, from donkey to cult hero in two weeks. Spoke to him for a while afterwards and a very nice, humble Aussie bloke he is too, especially compared to some on the team. Bit like the Socceroos own Mick Dundee. A classic moment as he struck that long range shot past the keepper and ran with arms outstretched to the same corner Tim had gone to four minutes earlier, as if to say: That's not a goal... THIS is a goal..."

Cops stunned by Socceroos shockers



What you doing trying to come in like that, fool! After much negotiation these Aussie fans were allowed in tonight  without their shirts but unlikely to win any awards for sartorial elegance.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

On the street where we live, Nelspruit



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This does not appear to be a joke. It's  a nice upper middle class street with big family homes behind spiked fences and razor wire. Other signs, for security firms, warn of "armed response". This one is refreshingly to the point.
After we stopped to take photos a lady driving a kick ass ute pulled up alongside us. "Are you tourists?"she asked. After some friendly banter about tonight's game she drove off the warning: "Keep your  mobiles and your keys in your pockets around here, ya?"
Justified or not, it can't be pleasant living in a permanent state of paranoia.

Whingeing in Nelspruit

Arrived in Nelspruit today after a 4 hour road trip. Desolate country side, except for a brief dramatic rocky landscape 50km out, a bit like the gorge on the way to the Central Coast. Much is new -  TomTom got us lost because the road was seemingly built since I downloaded the map two weeks ago.

There's been a bit said about Australia's whingeing following the Harry send off against Ghana. The Herald has carved the players up as whingers and quoted Tim Cahill as saying we Aussies never get a fair go.
I asked Pim about it at the media conference just now, but Captain Lucas just dived in. "You mind if I answer that?" And he did, with a little whinge along the way.

The story is here

Big game tomorrow (and we don't mean lions and elephants). The stadium is dressed for the occasion with towers the (almost) shape of giraffe and a cool zebra print on the empty seats - rather wasted on game day.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

So good they left out cesc

-- Spain at Ellis Park - I'll never forget this. The blur of the passing, the wonderful David Villa goal, falling over after a weaving run, he belts it into the corner. They should have scored six at least. Torres looks like a player who has been out for a while,which he is. If he can get his edge back by the finish and Villa can keep up his form, they will  go close to winning it.The noise was insane, the attack relentless. The fans were using the vuvuzelas in sync, great blasts of volume, the whole ground buzzing. And Spain were out of this world.One Xabi Alonso pass over 50 metres made me gasp. Beautiful game, beautiful team. Cesc came on after an hour - this is probably his fate for the next two seasons at Barca until he takes over a starting role.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Karma time

Brazil v Ivory Coast, much that is good about the sport and all that is bad. Some of the Brazilian buildup play was a delicious whir. Robinho set the tone as early as the 45th second, charging down the centre and lasing a ball just over the bar. Elano's sweet goal was the beautiful game at a zenith.
Brazil have steel too. Their defenders kept Drogba to 17 touches, which, reports a stats company, is the fewest by any player to play 90 minutes of a game at this World  Cup.
But this game won't be remembered for the four goals. It will all be outrage over Keita's disgraceful play acting to get Kaka sent off. But remember this: Luis Fabiano earlier handled twice in the lead up to his goal and celebrated with a laughing referee.
And this was not the worst example of simulation at a World Cup finals. That dishonour belongs to  Rivaldo in 2002.  I've included the video below.
  
 


Kiwi, Kiwi, Kiwi, Oi Oi Oi

Fantastic spectacle between New Zealand and Italy tonight. Offside goal to NZ, a dodgy penalty to Italy (where have we heard that before) and a pen not given to the All Whites when it should have been.
The tournament has been criticised for dull games but it has taken off now. The Australia game was a thriller. Harry is luckless. First game since April, should have had a penalty and then concedes one. He didn't break down in tears like Timmy, but then they're just different characters. Felt like we should have stolen a win. Luke Wilkshire was pissed off at himself for missing with the keeper to beat. He had time to chip it but hit low. Messi would have scored, but how many Messi's are there?
Chipperfield came close.I spoke to him afterwards about it. One of those where he'll be thinking about his header for the rest of his life (assuming it's the difference between going out and staying in). You just know he'll be 80 and the internal dialogue will still be there: "It was there hanging in the air, I got up well, good header, just got it slightly wrong, should have scored."
Chippers was downcast. He said "90 percent of Australia thinks I should retire. I don't see the point of going on."
We could have won but we didn't. Now what we need is not quite a miracle, but it's in the ball park.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Two handballs, but only one man misses Australia v Serbia

Two handballs, two penalties but only one sending off has left Australia's players seeing red and claiming injustice at the World Cup.

 The Socceroos face Serbia in a decisive Group D match at Nelspruit on Wednesday without star striker Harry Kewell. He would have expected to line up directly against Manchester United center back Nemanja Vidic, but received a one-game ban by FIFA after a red card in the 1-1 draw with Ghana on Saturday.
What has incensed the Australians is the presence of Vidic in the game. A day earlier he conceded a penalty for a handball against Germany, when his arm was raised high in the box and a cross struck him on the hand. He received a yellow card, likely because there were no German forwards lurking behind him and he was not deemed to have prevented a clear goal scoring opportunity.
 Kewell was struck on the arm by a fierce goal-bound shot but claimed he was trying to get out of the way. Australian forward Brett Holman said Kewell's intervention was an accident, while Vidic had put his hand up like a goalkeeper and stayed on the field.
" I haven't seen the Harry incident back on TV, only really quickly when it happened,"said Holman. "I was in the belief he kept his arm by his side, he didn't stick an arm out. It didn't look like he was being a goalie, like Vidic yesterday. He was going to grab it almost. I was definitely surprised by the call."
 Craig Moore also made mention of Vidic's handball after claiming the Kewell incident was neither a penalty nor a red card.
 "I'm not one for hard luck stories but we haven't had the run of the green on the big calls," says Moore. "You like to think they even themselves out but they haven't at this point in time. I didn't think it was a red card."

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Hot chicks in Rustenburg

Three hours before the game in Rustenburg, view from the media carpark to the Royal Bafokeng Stadium, venue for Australia v Ghana. This  is in the middle of the middle of the middle of nowhere.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Ghana training 26 hours from ko

Have arrived in Rustenburg for the Ghana game. Interesting journey including a sign that reads:  "Hijack Zone next 4km." Others have hotlines in case you hit a croc. The area around the stadium is a red wasteland and there is one lane back to Joburg. The ground is small and intimate but surrounded by a running track. Shold make for a good atmosphere tomorrow night.
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Is he Aussie Ossie?

Met Tottenham and Argentina legend Ossie Ardiles last night. Had some interesting things to say about Australian football and the role of entertainment in the beautiful game. I don't normally ask for photos with people I interview, but thought it might drive a certain Coledale Spud to jealous rage.

The story is here


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Should Australia's media be cheerleaders for the team?

I went to South Africa v Uruguay last night after watching Harry's quite calm attack on Australia's reporters - well particularly one from the Herald. Harry obviously believes the Australian journalists should be an extension of the Fanatics or Green and Gold Army.
"You should all be supporting us, making us feel good," Harry said in the mixed zone at Australia's training ground. "You're all supposed to be on our team and it's a shame you're all having a go a us."
That's not really the Australian way. News is news and the reporters don't care if it's good or bad. Sure it's better writing about a winning team. It's certainly easier because the team opens up and players are happy to talk themselves up. After the Germany game, the Australian team went to ground. They have done one media session in three days and that one was used as a chance to attack the press. A classic tactic in shifting momentum.
Interesting too has been the reaction to Pim's selection. Players from Harry, Vinnie and Craig Moore have produced the same line "we are following orders." Kewell appeared to support Verbeek in his interview but his message is more subtle than that. I believe he is saying, no matter what happens here, success or dismal failure, it is all down to the coach.
I found the motivation for Ben Buckley's press conference difficult to understand. He stood up and responded to a rumour - that there was a rift between players and Verbeek - which appeared on a rumour segment of a Melbourne radio station. By glorifying the rumour with quotes Buckley turned the rift into an international story. From 3AW to Taiwan, Tehran and Timbuktu in a matter of hours.
So, the footnote. After Uruguay beat South Africa the Uruguay coach came into the interview room, to applause. The first question: "Maestro, congrtulations on your personal contribution to this momentus victory for our country..." That must have made Oscar Tabarez feel good. Harry would have liked that.

More real work

From Ninemsn, USA Today and others


Forlan stops the music, spurs on Uruguay
By Tony Harper

Suddenly, a World Cup venue fell silent. It took 17 matches, but Diego Forlan of Uruguay brought the incessant sound of the noisy vuvuzelas to a stop on Wednesday with two goals in a 3-0 rout of hosts South Africa at Loftus Versfeld stadium.

He started the scoring with a 25-metre drive which took a flick off defender Aaron Mokoena and dipped in under the crossbar. But the crushing moment, for home fans, came when he stepped up to bury a second-half penalty high into the net after goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune had been given a red card. As he moved to the sideline to be engulfed by jubilant squad members, there was almost no sound emanating from the stands.

"I am so happy," Forlan said.

"I hope this was the real Uruguay tonight."

Forlan made his World Cup finals debut in 2002 and scored one goal, against Senegal, as Uruguay failed to clear a difficult group. That was during a tough time in his career and the difference now could not be more marked.

Back then, Forlan was at Manchester United and more known for horrendous misses than his sharp shooting. He was nicknamed "Diego Forlorn" and became a figure of fun for United fans.

A lot has happened since he fell out with Alex Ferguson, famously ignoring the manager's advice on what studs to wear in a game against Chelsea, missing an easy shot from in front of goal and never playing for the team again.

Forlan was shipped out to Villareal but in 2007 moved to Atletico Madrid as replacement for Fernando Torres, and he's proven a worthy successor. Torres, the Liverpool striker, was misfiring as Spain crashed to defeat earlier on Wednesday, but Forlan was superb for Uruguay.

"He's the type of player who decides games and that's what he did tonight," South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira said.

"It is not only tonight but for five or six years. He has been the top scorer in Spain twice and if you don't watch him you are in trouble. He took a beautiful shot for the first goal tonight - he's a great player."

Forlan overshadowed South Africa's No.10 Steven Pienaar in a lopsided contest and his distribution was nearly flawless.

"We were clear what we had to do tonight," Forlan said.

"We were intense in defence and we stayed calm in the midfield. We have to keep going, however. We have achieved nothing yet."

Uruguay is a two-time winner of the World Cup but those achievements were in 1930 and twenty years later. More recently their World Cup story has been one of early exits or qualifying disasters.

For the past five years Forlan has been one of Europe's top strikers. Perhaps a Golden Shoe beckons if his goals can carry Uruguay deep into the tournament?

"I am not thinking about being the top scorer here. No," Forlan said on Wednesday.

"Goals are important for the team, not for me. If the goals come for the team, that is the main thing."

Harry hot

Harry just turned on the media at socceroos training. "You are all supposed to be here supporting us - making us feel good."


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Harry in the mixed zone on the mixed zone

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Germans are toying with us

If you can handle reliving the Germany game this is a pretty cool way to do it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

My view of holland v denmark

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  • Yes I got here. No, I was not in time and my ticket had been given away. Yes, that's the dunny.

And, in lighter news . . .

real work

From USA Today, SMH.com and others today

By Tony Harper, Associated Press Writer
DURBAN, South Africa — The first time Tim Cahill ran into Bastian Schweinsteiger he earned a red card. The second time he dissolved into tears.
Cahill, the hero of Australia's 2006 World Cup campaign, was sent off Sunday with a straight red card in the 56th minute for a late challenge on Schweinsteiger at Moses Mabhida Stadium. He now misses the must-win match against Ghana.
"It's one of the saddest moments in my football career to be in this position," Cahill said, just as Schweinsteiger approached him after the game.
"It was not a red card," Schweinsteiger told the Australian, who began to cry.
"That was nice of him," Cahill said. "Sometimes players can make a meal of things on the pitch and it's understandable because it gives them an advantage."
Cahill said the red card was "one of the lowest points of my career."
Cahill's challenge came from behind but his studs were on the turf, his leg was bent and he clipped Schweinsteiger with his knee first.
Even so, Marco Rodriguez of Mexico showed him the red card. Germany was already leading 2-0 and it powered away for a 4-0 victory.
"If you look at in on the TV you can see he comes in from behind trying to make a tackle and then pulls out," Australia captain Lucas Neill said.
Cahill, who plays as an attacking midfielder with Everton, had endured a frustrating night as Australia's usually conservative coach Pim Verbeek pulled a surprise and played Cahill as striker.
Although Verbeek has employed a 4-2-3-1 formation throughout qualifying and friendly matches, he left the squad's three strikers on the bench and played midfielders Richard Garcia and Cahill as two front men.
The move left Cahill, Australia's most influential player, isolated and wasted up front and he barely threatened. He appeared frustrated as the Germans took control but said he was happy to play anywhere on the field.
"It's just an honor to play for my country," Cahill said. "You see a lot of players wanting to start who aren't. I'd play left back it wouldn't bother me."
Australia must now beat Ghana, who earlier Sunday scored a 1-0 victory over Serbia, without Cahill, to have a chance of making the next stage.
Cahill became a national hero in 2006 when he scored twice in the final 10 minutes to lead the Socceroos to a come-from-behind 3-1 victory over Japan, the country's only victory in a match at a World Cup finals.
"I never doubt my own character I'm 100 percent committed to the cause," Cahill said. "I'll train my best to prove my worth for the last game."

Going dutch ... Maybe

Been a long couple of days. After the riot drama was in bed at three and then up at six for flight back to joburg. Having written an obligatory "why pim is a goose " story on plane i ignored matt halls advice and set off for the holland game at soccer city. Allowing three hours to go thirty k seemed fine but one missed shuttle later im in the worst traffic ever- outside of moore park of course. Hoping to see van persie play but half an hour to ko likely will just stay stuck behind the van in front. Memo to self: if you want to see lots of games stay home.

Men with guns are running at us

I got caught in a riot after tonight's match. Stewards, saying they were offered about $250 for 12 hours work at Durban Stadium, were paid less than $50. They refused to leaved the venue and were chanting and had surrounded a cop car as I came down from the press tribune. Soon after armed riot police came storming in, as I was interviewing a steward. "This is an international event. International! They are supposed to give us 1500 rand, that's what FIFA told us. They give us 190! We are working from 12 o├žlock until now (1am)."
At this moment, riot police moved in. The stewards began to run for the exits and I was caught up in a stampede, caught in the flow of bright ornage vested stewards going one way as riot police with guns charged at us. The cops threw down percussive grenades and two loud booms echoed through the concrete bowels of the stadium. Later, teargas was used to drive the stewards out of the precinct. Some said they faced walks home of up to three hours.

  

Wow

Huge cheers for our boys. Amazing noise stunning venue
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Great scoop by New York Post! (Read it carefully guys)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Game day

A rude awakening at 5am game day. A lone vuvuzela being mournfully blown by fan in the street below. Maybe an England fan? Steve Waugh got  here today. Tape recorder thrust under his steely eyes and asked if he had a message: "Robert Green, you've just dropped the World Cup". Maybe that was a dream.
Very hot today. I have three jumpers, thermal underwear, a massive jacket, big leather boots and no boardshorts. I have obviously not been paying attention. An English colleague just headed off to the beach leaving me here with my blog and air con. Here are a couple of photos from the window.
Plenty of Australians on the street and not many look confident. Rumours abound of team changes for tonight but that would  be a massive surprise from our conservative coach.
Where you guys watching it?


The final session

The Socceroos held their final pre match training run at Moses Mabidha Stadium in Durban. Pim and Lucas fronted the press but you feel they've done all their talking. They've spent two weeks talking up the Germany team and Lucas says tomorrow is "probably the toughest game in our short world cup history." Considering we'played Italy and Brazil in 2006 and both Germany teams in 1974, it was a big statement.
Spent the day working for AP. Weird being here as a worker and not a fan like four years ago. Less beer, and less watching football. Saw the Argentina win via replays as ws typing out a Craig Moore story at the time. Not making that mistake for england, so off we go.
  

Really?
No, just a test of the screens in Durban

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Made it

Durban. Nice looking place. Like the Gold Coast in the 1970s, although can't see many surfers. Could be sharks but likely it's just cold.
Saw France v Uruguay at a Joburg fan zone last night. Becuse it was the late game and followed a very loud Afro music gig I was the oldest bloke there. And the only one without a horn... Or a SA jersey. Reminded me of 2006 except bloody freezing. Had to jump up and down on the spot while watching, great clouds of mist coming off me.
Durban though is nice. Inside this media shuttle it says it's 30 degrees.
Now to brave the accreditation queue and a Pim verbeek press conference.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Socceroos Strange but true No. 2

Germany have taken five strikers to the World Cup but Australia is left with only three. There's Jesus Josh and Hobbling Harry as well as "Aussie" Nikita Rukavtytsya. Nik, who plies his trade on loan at Belgian club K.S.V. Roeselare came to Perth eight years ago as a 14 yearold from the Ukraine, unable to speak English.
His father Vadym was a professional Greco-Roman wrestler in their homeland.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Song for the Socceroos

I got the following email from a Socceroos diehard yesterday and it left me humming for hours and thinking for minutes.

Hey Tony
Seeing as though you’re a media identity – I have a song to be sung in the stands and at the bars
To the tune of Pet Shop boys ‘Go West’…and plays on what was sung in Germany where the crowd would sing ‘stand up for the socceroos’ and repeat that line over and over again and it went nowhere.
I was motivated by the Croatians fantastic singing in Stuttgart main square before the game – earlier that day – we had nothing to match them - except such great lines such as – ‘you’re shit, but your chicks are hot, repeat’ again with the go west melody

Anyway – here we go

STAND UP FOR THE SOCCEROOS
SING LOUD FOR THE SOCCEROOS
FEEL PROUD OF THE SOCCEROOS
IT’S THE TIME OF THE SOCCEROOS

Can you get it out there?
I tried in Stuttgart – wrote it out 25 times on a single A4 page – went to the Stuttgart train station photocopier – printed it off 30 times and then handed out all 700 of them to the Aussie crowd in the bars in the hrs leading up to that famous night. George Negus called me the ‘bearded bard’ at the time! And Tony Wheeler in his book referred to me in some way too

Anyway

Its in your hands now…

Martin

Four years ago I thought I might write a song too. I had heard that Mark Schwarzer's favourite artist was Jimmy Barnes, circa Working Class Man, so a I penned a tribute which begand "Let's all cheer that magic man, Schwarzer!" What followed was a long (and some said painful) celebration of the Australian number one, intricately woven around the lyrics of Khe Sahn, a great choice - or so I believed - because it was a backpacker in foreign pub staple and had been for years. I told a few friends and you know what? It never stuck. For a start it was four minutes long. Secondly, the stutterers I know had trouble with the line: "We're gunna drink in Kaiserslautern all night long".
Despite Martin's comment, I thought my song was bested by the "You're shit, but your chicks are hot" song, which was carried over into the Italy match, and certainly made more sense to me that day.
Other favourite chants along the 2006 way included "You only sing when you're whaling" (at the Japanese) and "One tonne Ronaldo" at the hefty Brazilian bloke.
What I found out with my overwrought Cold Chisel Schwarzer tribute, and Martin will probably learn, is that after several hours drinking in a town square songs need to consist of as few words as possible.
Let's keep track of the chants in SA, if you hear a good one, let us know.

Socceroos strange but true. No. 1

Brett Emerton, put up for sale by his EPL club Blackburn today, once knocked back an approach by Man United boss Sir Alex Ferguson. Fergie rang Brett's father Michael in 1999 and asked him to bring the boy over for a trial. Brett, whose favourite player was Ryan Giggs, decided against going because he wanted to give something back to Australian football after being school at the AIS. He had promised to stick around to play at the 2000 Olympics. Michael told Fergie to call back after the Olympics but he never did.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

How Australia plays - in a nutshell from Zonal Marking

 

Yes, we all have an opinion on the defensive set up favoured by the national coach, but for an excellent insight into our 4-2-3-1 style, complete with more illustrations like the one above, check out the analysis at the Zonal Marking website here

Monday, June 7, 2010

The world's most disgusting Fantasy League

Congratulations to Host Advertising agency for coming up with a World Cup fantasy game with a deliciously naughty twist. Instead of picking a team and having the players score you points with goals, assists and clean sheets, the  Fantasy Cheaters League rewards a different skill set altogether. Pick 11 players you expect to rack up disgusting fouls (5pts), blatant handballs (3 pts) and outrageous dives (5pts). The cheat of the match gains you 10 points. While most fantasy games have a limit of players from one country or team, a quick read of the rules suggests no such restrictions - so you could picking the entire Italian starting line up.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Why we love Scott Chipperfield (and hate Brazil) in Wollongong

We've been here before. Now has Pim got what it takes to lift this listless team?

In 2006, the Socceroos final warmup match was a similarly confused and erratic performance, a tight win over Liechtenstein characterised by sloppy passing, vague defending and a lack of cohesion. So, was the 3-1 loss to the United States last night - sharing all these characteristics and a few more besides - a good omen? Probably not.
Too much can be made of the powers of managers. But could anyone notice the tired face on bench bound Pim last night and not wish for a time when the Socceroos had someone capable of rousing them from their slumber, of bringing them to a psychological peak with a wave of that meaty arm?
It says it all that Pim's next venture will be taking over the youth set up in Morocco - a move that hardly screams ambition or tells of a man in wide demand as a motivator of men. It was also a weakness to feel forced into announcing his next destination before this job was completed.Can he take a team suffering fatigue and struggling to cope with the peculiarities of altitude and a trick ball and give them what Hiddink did four years ago?
According to Jason Culina last night, Verbeek has been hammering them in training. It was much the same four years ago when Hiddink slaughtered his players in the weeks before their first match against Japan and it helped them dig deep when they looked beaten. But how much of that success and subsequent group advancement was down to Hiddink's motivational powers, his gravitas?

Is there a Pim X Factor, as yet unseen, which will emerge when his team is a goal down with 10 minutes to play at World Cup? The senior players say they love him, but maybe that is because he doesn't rattle their cages as his predecessor did, famously leaving Cahill out of the starting lineup four years ago, or dropping Schwarzer for the third match. Tecnically, and tactically, the Socceroos are not going improve over the next week. Last night they ran into a better team, in a friendly it must be remembered, and faltered. So, what extra can Pim bring to the table, now that it matters.

What else did we learn?

If Vince Grella could kick the ball as well as he kicks his opponents he'd be a superstar.

The US are justifiably ranked higher than we are. Their speed carved Craig Moore to bits and but for an astonishing miss and a wrongly ruled out goal, this might have been a massacre.

Harry is a desperation play. If he can't be risked for 15 minutes in a friendly, what makes us think he can have any impact in the tournament? No matter what happens in the next eight days, he has played two minutes in a competitive match in 2010.

Tim Cahill will carry a heavy load. Hopefully his neck injury is just a slight strain.

We don't have a freekick option. Despite Tim Cahill's glorious freekick goals in a TV ad, we are bereft of someone who can take advantage of freekicks around the box. Luke Wilkshire, excellent at delivering from wide, had one tepid attempt. Bresciano, a player who has scored from set pieces in the past, wore the air of a defeated man when he walked up to crash his straight into the wall. His body language screams insecurity right now.

Schwarzer remains one of the world's great goalkeepers. Better than Almunia? Right up in the top few for mine. Two saves, one from Dempsey going across the goal into the bottom corner, and a swerving thunderbolt from Bradley, showed his class.

 In front of him, however, we have a whole lot of problems.

What did you learn last night?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Football's Coming, Gnome

Anyone else feel we are getting the rough end of the pineapple when it comes to creative ways to support our World Cup team this year? Sure,
we have a lairy playing strip made out of recycled plastic bottles, but so far I've seen nothing to compare with the English and US souvenirs pictured here. I think both do an excellent job of summing up their respective national characters. In fact, the England example (15 pounds) looks very much like Wayne Rooney in the new Nike ad, after it's all gone wrong. The American "Patriot Mask" ($US18.99), well they wouldn't make those anywhere else really would they? As editor of Football + mag I tried to redress this issue and had the Australian Makarapa commissioned from the biggest producer in Johannesburg. And yet, something is missing - it's just too ... classy.
Now maybe if they'd dressed it with the top of a pineapple...

So what Australian World Cup souvenir would you like to see?


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

From the Rose Bowl to Joburg: Here we go again

It's 16 years since I experienced my first visit to a World Cup, and it was nothing like I was expecting. Landing in Los Angeles, fresh from two years working as freelance on Fleet Street, was weird dislocation. In England, and on the subs bench at The Sun in particular, football, the games and all its baggage, was almost overwhelming. European nights at Highbury, World Cup warmups at Wembley, working in an office under a huge picture of Vinnie Jones with a fistful of Gazza's meat and two veg, was like oxygen to a young journo/ football fan. And then hot LA, an el cheapo motel downtown, no one with any clue as to why you were there. If you told them the football/ soccer World Cup you got a blank, distrusting look. It sounded too foreign.
Five weeks in a trailer in the Rose Bowl car park, with the odd epic game (Argentina 2 Romania 3, still the greatest football exhibition I've seen live) thrown in. Abiding memories of the mobile burrito van which kept me fed, filterless Camels I still regret, watching out the window as the LA cops brought in OJ, the sky full of TV choppers. And an earthquake. Well a tremor that seems scarier with each year. Seeing Al Gore and his entourage of secret service, wearing, and I'm not sure why I found this so funny at the time, large plastic accreditations declaring SECRET SERVICE.
Agence France Presse staff having a huge seafood feast and then dumping their prawn shells in the industrial bin next to our UPI trailer. Did they pay to have that bin left there for the next 10 days?
Rewriting American soccer copy into English to send to papers where they would doubtless write it back into American. And sitting next to a befuddled man from New York who couldn't understand why a defender was allowed to score a goal.
Soon to South Africa. What memories are still to come?