Monthly Archives: July 2013
When you see an assortment of bandages, wrist supports, gloves and removable grips, you could be forgiven in thinking that you may be at a tennis tournament. But there wasn’t any hint of strawberries and cream, female grunting, short frilly skirts or glistening thighs on display at all at the Princes Park Bowls Club for the Victorian Open Masters Foosball Tournament.
Participating competitors aren’t discouraged from visiting the bar during competition, which makes it sound like my kind of sport. In the halcyon days of snooker and darts being at the forefront of everyday Britain in the 70s & 80s, TV programmes like Indoor League (with Fiery Fred Trueman as host, often wearing a cardigan, and smoking a pipe throughout his links ) regularly featured Table Football as one of their sports. They were definitely the sports of everyday people, based in pubs full of smoke and warm beer (bitter)! Today’s proceedings sees bitter replaced by ice cold lager and cider stubbies and smoking is confined to the outdoor areas.
In the much understated environment of the Princes Park Bowling Club, competitors trekked from all over Australia to compete for the Victorian Masters title, and for the chance of qualifying for the Australian National Titles which are being held in Hobart later in the year. The winner of the Australian Championships gets the opportunity to represent Australia at the 2014 Foosball World Cup, held in Nantes, France in January. However, trying to wrest that title from Freddy Collignon of Belgium could be quite difficult. Collignon is the Phil “The Power” Taylor of the foosball world, as he has won the World Cup, 10 times out the previous 15 tournaments.
There are three different tournaments contested – Singles, Doubles and Draw Your Partner (Lucky Dip) Doubles.
Wales’ own Leigh Hathaway, currently ranked the 248th best player in the world (ITSF world rankings) has organised this tournament and he tells me that numbers are growing as the sport becomes better organised. Australia are currently ranked the 27th best Nation in those same ITSF rankings. However, the Princes Park Bowling Club is a long way from the bright lights of Nantes and the big money tournaments in Las Vegas!
The now classic 2-5-3 table football formation is certainly a strange one, and one not usually found on any football field in today’s age. The game was essentially invented in 1923 and little has changed since. The one similarity between football and foosball is that possession of the ball, like most sports to be honest, is king. Players spend a large proportion of their time on the ball moving it sideways between players trying to create an opening for a shot on goal. Shots on goal can move at a fierce pace – allegedly close to 60 mph. But the one thing to remember though is no spinning. That is rather illegal. Growing up, that used to be the foray of the kids “down the club” – there was nothing quite like the sound of the players whizzing round at the speed of sound – all at once, as six 10 years olds tried to out-do each other on the spinning front.
Anthony Pino who was playing in this tournament represented Australia at the previous World Cup and it was a major surprise when he was knocked out in the semi finals of this tournament in straight sets. Anthony takes foosball far too seriously, as he only had his first beer AFTER he was knocked out of the singles tournament. Typical Welshman Leigh was also on the beers early, as he was quite embarrassed by his early exit from the tournament. Leigh did quite well in the doubles tournament though. I felt a bit sorry for the guy at the defensive end of the table as they only get to use the goalkeeper and the two defenders instead of the plethora of the “attacking 8”.
Foosball’s popularity rose incredibly during the 1990s in the USA as it featured prominently in the sitcom Friends. It is alleged that British rockers Depeche Mode insist on a table as part of their rider during their live shows, wherever they are in the world. It was great to see a competitive event with age and gender no barrier to competition. Who knows, this time next year may see another Welshman enter the Foosball fray…….
VICTORIAN OPEN FOOSBALL MASTERS
WINNER: ZSOLT HANKO (VIC)
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It had to happen. It was never going to be long before I ended up in Broadmeadows with nothing else better to do on a Saturday night. An evening at The Meadows isn’t regularly featured in many Lonely Planet guides and it’s definitely no MCG or Federation Square. The sport is generally seen as more of a northern pursuit in the UK, and more working class than a mullet in a VN Commodore (or Escort XR3i for UK readers) in Australia.
It was a non-descript meeting, at a non-descript track in a far from non-descript suburb on a far from non-descript occasion. As stag do’s go, what more could you ask for? A cheap buffet, unlimited “free” beers, races every 15 minutes and best of all, the 4th day of the cricket on the big screen! Now apparently, The Meadows is one of the world’s most forward thinking and unique greyhound racing venues, with facilities to match. It is the home of the Australian Cup and boasts a reputation of providing first class racing, hospitality and service for any occasion – according to its own website anyway!
The Meadows is the home of the Australian Cup and boasts a reputation of providing first class racing, hospitality and service for any occasion. – See more at: http://www.themeadows.org.au/#sthash.sOgxU3vk.dpuf
It is cheap; I’m not sure if its cheerful, but all in all it’s quite a fun way to spend an evening. What’s more, is that you are not expected to get dressed up for the evening. A night at the dogs can be quite enjoyable if you go with a group of likeminded individuals that are there for the same reason – to get pissed and have a good laugh and perhaps a punt or twenty. To go by yourself is just plain weird!
We put some betting theories to the test with moderate success, but when 10 out the 12 races were won by fairly short priced favourites, we were never going to become the next Kerry Packer; more like Del-Boy and Rodney.
I was genuinely surprised by the lack of people there. I know the weather was bad, but the general viewing area couldn’t have had more than a 50 people there. There was only one course bookie, which sums up today’s gambling industry I suppose. The appealing aspect of heading to the track is watching the ever changing odds clicked over by the bookies, and playing the game where you think you are going to get the very best odds offered across the board – the challenge of beating the system is half the fun – even before the damn doggie has even run!
There were however 200+ diners in the plusher upstairs environment. The food was quite respectable to be fair, and the free beer was not a contributor in my assessment – honest! The restaurant does offer a great overhead view of the track and it was also warm and dry, which was very different to what it was outside on Saturday night!
The evening was not without its own excitement though. When the hare takes off, there is that air of anticipation around and the noise the trap doors make when then fly open, is unique in sport. As the 32 paws pound the sand past the winning post the first time round, the speed is quite phenomenal – the dogs have been known to hit 70km/h! The fact that once on the track, the dish-lickers can do absolutely anything, and very little is in anyone or anything else’s control. As there is no jockey to control them, they have a tendency to bounce around off each other, jump over each other, knock each other over (regularly!), or turn sideways for no apparent reason. They have no comprehension of stamina or conserving energy – they just go as fast as they can for as long as they can and hope that they stay upright and straight all the way to the finish line.
There are cheers of encouragement from the punters in the crowd whose hard-earned is riding on the back of these unpredictable flea taxis. Names are forgotten as the dogs simply become numbers or colours. As the dogs hit the line in a blur of fur, there are yelps of approval from the locals (the non-furry ones) and groans of what could have been. A win can mask many losses, but as long as you keep within your limits there’s no harm done.
As one of the biggest investors in the evening we managed to wangle our way into presenting the trophy to one of the winners. Our race was this one:
MASTERFOODS MATURITY HT 6 (525m)
1. (1) DYNA NALIN $ 2.00/$ 1.20
2. (8) DARK WARRIOR $ 1.50
3. (4) RED HOT MILLIONS $ 3.40
It was a fun night. It was definitely affordable and the racing was there to serve a purpose. I can truly say that no-one went home disappointed and it was a great way to spend a night out with a load of mates. If only they did a curry night????? I don’t think it’s a date night option though, unless you’re from Broadmeadows that is – then it’s a first date, second date and marriage reception venue all in one!
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2 gigs; 1 set list; 8,000 Brits; a cross section of rugby royalty; all of 10 Aussies and a Kiwi; numerous LIONS, LIONS, LIONS chants; 2 Welsh Flags on stage (as well as 2 weird pink trees); 1 very special guest appearance and true to form, no encores.
It’s a god given right for a band of the magnitude of the Manic Street Preachers to get paid to come and watch the last two tests of the British & Irish Lions tour. They also got to treat the Lions fans to two “Greatest Hits” gigs. There are few surprises in the jam packed 90 minute sets, full of the Manics best and well known tracks.
As soon as lead singer James Dean Bradfield opens his mouth, you know that he is on form. If the man was an American, he would have been one the industry’s greatest rock and roll voices. Silky smooth, yet powerful and strong (yes I do have a man crush on JDB – always have and and always will!) yet the control and ease that the vocals are delivered have stood him in good stead ever since the band’s raw explosion onto the punk rock scene way back in 1991.
Nicky Wire, was looking far less demure than his normal exuberant on-stage self; minus his usual dress or frilly mini skirt, and wearing significantly less make-up than normal, but still lit up the stage. Wire still doesn’t say much, which kind of adds to this on-stage persona that remains mysterious and just out of reach.
The sound at both gigs was pitch perfect, which is a credit to the crew and the professionalism and experience of the band. I had reservations about the quality at both venues, but I was blown away by the clarity and acoustics, which to be completely honest is somewhat lacking in Australian venues. JDB regularly brought the crowd together, chatting away, re-iterating the real reason why they were here – for the Lions. They even changed the lyrics of Send Away The Tigers to Send Away The Lions as an homage to the tourists.
All four home nations were widely represented amongst the crowds and no doubt they were tempted to throw in some rugby songs to get the punters involved, but it would have taken ages and taken away from the occasion AND there was no way on Earth that the Celts (including the band) were going to join in with anything that involved Sweet Chariots…..
The set got off to a lively start, as they opened with possibly their most loved track – Motorcycle Emptiness. Start as you mean to go on I guess and it certainly got the blood pumping and set the bar very high. The sweet pop rock of Your Love Alone was up next, minus any female vocal, which JDB skewed enough to pass off as Nina Pearsson – mind you I’d had a few by then, so it could well have been anyone really! The hits kept coming, although the inclusion of the rather pedestrian Ocean Spray was a surprise. Australia was roared out and they rollocked their way through more classics. There was manna for both the die-hard fan and the show junkies. Very few Manics songs disappoint the male 25-45 demographic and tonight’s feast was no different.
A Design For Life was left for the crowd to sing the first verse in what proved to be the highlight with the crowd.
In a surprise to everyone, JDB introduces a one-off band member, Wales and British & Irish Lions player, “The Flying Doctor” Jamie Roberts. Roberts, possibly more nervous about performing in front of 4,000 here than the normal 70,000+ at the Millenium Stadium, accompanies the band on You Love Us and looked happier than the proverbial fox in the henhouse. Sometimes being a Welsh rugby player has its added benefits….
One of the first Manics tracks that made me take notice of the band was Motown Junk. The guitar rifts and its anthemic punk nature struck a chord with me at the time. I don’t think I even realised they were Welsh then, but when I discovered that they hailed from only 15 miles away from where I was born and bred, the 22 year love affair was borne. I still love this track – it’s a great scream out loud, air guitar worthy blast.
The atmosphere of the two gigs was something I’ve not experienced for a long time. The tracks were decent sing-a-longs for the vast majority in attendance, and JDB’s acoustic set brought everyone together, arms aloft pumping like a good old 70s disco. The punters really got involved. They contributed when they were asked and more often than not, when they weren’t. The rockers from the Gwent Valleys did not disappoint. They have an overwhelming stage presence that is so simple yet so engaging and yet it is not in their nature, despite the showmanship from Mr. Wire, to be flashy or over the top. They haven’t always let their music do the talking, but moreso now it’s what it’s all about. They enjoy what they do, and goddamn they do it well.
At the end of the Melbourne gig, I honestly think JDB toyed with the idea of breaking a 23 year tradition of the band not doing encores. He even teased the crowd by mentioning this fact and came back to the microphone to join in with the singing crowd before exiting. I’m glad he stuck by his principles and left the stage gracefully. In Sydney, it was more of a “exit stage left”….
Will they come back to Australia? Only time will tell, the next Lions tour is 2017 in New Zealand, don’t bet against them doing a few sideshows in Australia to compliment a couple of weeks in New Zealand…… I did remark after the Melbourne gig that I have added a bucket list item of seeing the Manics perform in Wales. I have no doubt it would be an emotional homecoming (for all of us!). CYMRU AM BYTH!
- Motorcycle Emptiness
- Your Love Alone (is not enough)
- You Stole the Sun from My Heart
- Ocean Spray
- Suicide is Painless (Theme from M*A*S*H)
- Its Not War (Just the end of Love)
- La Tristesse Durera
- Everything Must Go
- Send Away the Lions (was Tigers!!!)
- A Design for Life
- James Dean Bradfield doing solo acoustic – Everlasting
- JDB solo acoustic – Can’t Take My Eyes Off You (Da Da, Da Da Da Da…)
- You Love Us
- Little Baby Nothing
- Motown Junk
- If You Tolerate This (Your Children Will Be Next)
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The tale of two, last gasp, missed penalty kicks had lead us to this deciding game. It was 2001 all over again and I for one did not want to go through the pain and anguish of what I experienced near enough 12 years ago to the day! When Leigh Halfpenny’s penalty fell short in Melbourne, I started having flashbacks all over again, but the one thing I could predict with the unnerving accuracy of an Olympic archer, was the pounding my liver was going to take in the lead-up to the game. After another week closer to cirrhosis, the final leg of the Lions tour was not going to be a celebratory lap of honour, but hopefully a solid preparation for the glory that could possibly be “the Saturday night to remember”.
However, the Test team announcement on the Tuesday saw some huge surprises. It seemed that Coach Gatland had got his own way at the selection table when 10 Welshmen (just not enough in my opinion!) were chosen in the starting line-up which was beefed up like an East German shotputter. But daggers were thrust through Irish hearts, when the elder statesman of the touring party, and the former “best centre in the world”, Brian O’Driscoll, was dropped completely from the match day squad. I actually went for a “swift half” with an Irish native the day after the team was announced only to be told that “she shouldn’t even be talking to me”!!!! Emotions were certainly running strong.
There is no room for sentimentality in sport any more, especially where the prize, the pressure and the intensity is so great. O’Driscoll has epitomized the spirit of rugby for so long. He is a legend of the game – a moniker I rarely bestow on anyone. But his omission sent shockwaves amongst both the British and Aussie press:
BRIAN O’Driscoll should not only be in the Lions side for Saturday night’s decider, he should be leading the team onto the field as captain.- Tim Horan
A number of decisions on this summer’s tour suggests that the “concept and ethos of the Lions has been forgotten. Nobody can tell me that Jamie Roberts is a better player than Brian O’Driscoll. Robbie Deans must be laughing all the way to Saturday.- Willie John McBride
You just wonder if they got a lucky bag and picked some names out. I was convinced Brian O’Driscoll should have been named as captain. It’s catastrophic leaving him out. He’s still one of the top centres in world rugby. He’s a fantastic guy and has been on four tours and knows it all inside out. It’s a massive mistake.- Ian Robertson
It is a terrible mistake. O’Driscoll has been quiet. But he has been the clarion call once Paul O’Connell got injured. I am totally at a loss.- Keith Wood
Warren Gatland may have made a mistake by axing veteran centre Brian O’Driscoll. I would have paired him with Jamie Roberts for the third Test in Sydney. For me, they are the best centre partnership in world rugby.- Sir Ian McGeechan
For the life of me, I cannot fathom why he [Gatland] has done it. He has never toed the line traditionally. He has had some amazing results, he’s a fantastic coach and rightly the Lions coach, but is he just making a statement that he can do this? – Shane Byrne
It wouldn’t be a genuine Lions tour without some abrasiveness between the 4 Nations. There is always going to be issues with the makeup of any Lions team – there’s never enough Welshmen, Irishmen, Englishmen or Sco…. no, don’t think we will ever have that issue!!!
When a close friend of mine that really only has a passing interest in sport made an impassioned plea to secure a ticket to the game and then drive from Melbourne on the morning of the match, it truly shows the cult appeal that a Lions series can bring. Obviously it’s never just about the rugby, but once you become part of the whole experience it’s a high like no other.
Around Sydney in the lead-up to the game, the highly publicised “Sea of Red” was out in force. Everywhere you went, there were red jerseys – unless you were Irish, then the green version was the colour of choice as symbolic support for the ousted BO’D! Every pub you passed saw Brits of all ages camped out sampling the local amber nectar. What amazed me this time round was the sheer number of the “more mature” tourist – it seems that rugby tour folklore remains in high regard – is 70 the new 40?
Sydney was abuzz with rugby fever. There was little other interest around the city. The day was gloroius – god had turned it on for the game they play in heaven. The stadium itself is a 20 minute train ride from the centre of town. Trains were leaving every 10 minutes and were packed to the point where there were disappointed punters left on the platform – mainly because of those vital 10 minutes of lost drinking time, having to wait for the next train. Upon arrival at Olympic Park, we finally found where the Aussies had been hiding all day. We all adjourned to the monstrous beer tent that had perhaps the longest bar in the world – and it was still 10 deep throughout. Bulk purchases were necessary just to keep hydrated.
The atmosphere in Olympic Park was pumping. The flood of the 83,702 fans into the ground created log jams everywhere. After trekking up the 6 levels and then another 50 odd rows of seats later I said goodbye to my sherpa guide, and my arrival at the summit was greeted by a good number of Lions fans in the manner I have now been accustomed to.
The view from the roof was spectacular, but watching ants play for one of the biggest prizes in rugby is not my cup of tea. At least I was on the half way line – right!!! From the kick-off, the roar of the Lions fans was ear shattering. It got even louder when Will Genia dropped the opening kickoff! A minute later the Lions had scored their first try when Corbisiero bobbed up and bounced over the line. As the game started to take shape the Lions forward strength began to assert itself. When Richard Hibbard, the hooker from Ty Bach, who had been brought in to add some much needed steel, used his face/head to stop evergreen Aussie George Smith. It was Smith who came off second best and had to spend 10 minutes off the field just to check he still had all his faculties in tact!
When the Wallabies prop Alexander was sin-binned for essentially being crap, there was air of inevitability about the result. When the Lions jumped to 19-3, the Wallabies then sparked into action. A twinkle-toed solo try from O’Connor after the siren and two penalties in 5 minutes after the break saw the deficit reduced to only 3 points. When Hibbard was replaced early in the second half, he had put his body on the line so many times the physios had no idea which part of his body needed ice the most!
With just over a half hour to go, mine and many others’ moods feared the worst. The Aussies were on top and had all the momentum. The carnage was immense. On 55 minutes there was a comical moment when 4 players were down and all needed treatment for bleeding injuries. At one stage I think they were even trying to ask qualified doctor Jamie Roberts, playing in the centre for the Lions, to help out with the stitches! This may well have been the turning point though, as straight after this mini-break, the Lions scored a well worked try down the left, after a half break through Davies and then Halfpenny, who sent Sexton through under the posts. If you thought the roar at opening try was loud, the decibels this time were immeasurable.
Just minutes later, this happened:
Halfpenny again made the break from nothing to kill any thought of a comeback. When the Flying Doctor Roberts bust through a weak Aussie defence less than 2 minutes later it was all over. The Gatland masterplan had been executed to a tee and beef and brawn had won the day. The Sydney party had only just begun and the celebrations on the pitch were only a precursor as to what was soon to be occurring throughout Sydney over the next 5 or 6 hours (make that 25 or 26 hours!). The Lions players and officials stayed on the field for the next 40 minutes soaking it all in. This was the first series win since 1997 and we just hope that it’s not another 16 years between drinks – well not between drinks as we all know that they will keep flowing no matter the result!
DHL Rugby Series Third Test
AUSTRALIA 16 – 41 BRITISH LIONS
(Lions win the series 2-1)
And the drinks did flow until the wee hours of the morning. So much so that it was reported that some Sydney establishments ran out of beer (2001 all over again)! It still amazes me that some places are not prepared for what is possibly their biggest drinking day for 12 years! The pub we were in was dreadfully understaffed, but I guess there are only so many backpackers to go round that actually wanted to work today!
The third installment of Mic-watch saw yet another world-class effort from the Brummie.
Another tour has come and gone. The series itself was as engrossing as it could get. The end result could not have been sweeter and the craic will again be lauded over for years to come. New Zealand in 2017 has already been discussed and I have no doubt that as that time draws closer, the stories, the pictures, the memories from the past 12 years will grow into the stuff legends are made of. Let’s hope all our livers recover in time!!!! See you across the ditch in 4 years time.
If you flew into Melbourne this week – on a clear day, which is pretty rare right now – you would have been greeted with this image in a neighbouring field:
Apparently some people have taken this ad as offensive; I’m not sure to whom, but to someone. Certainly not the Brits – definitely not the Irish!
So, the mind games had begun in earnest. Beware an Australian scorned. That has been ringing in my ears all week. Like Shane McGowan, they just keep surviving and hanging in there, no matter what. The Australians are even better at it when their backs are against the wall. They have a siege mentality and after last week’s result, the motivational propaganda was out in force. In 2001, after the “Sea of Red” episode at the Gabba which continues to haunt every international sporting code in Australia, Melbourne was flooded with adverts on billboards, on trucks, in newspapers and on TV urging fans to “Be bold, wear gold.” In 2013 the message had evolved to “It’s on for green and gold – Your country needs you more than ever before!”
The home crowd were implored to “Rise Up, Grab the person next to you and stand shoulder to shoulder for the National Anthem”, like a herd of disillusioned sheep (in their sheepish, canary yellow, Qantas sponsored styrofoam Diggers’ hats – now I do find them offensive!!!). These hats are now the subject of taunts from the Lions fans, who take every opportunity to sing at their counterparts “You’re only wearing yellow ‘cos it’s free…..”, and repeated ad nauseum, until a bite…..
I was perturbed when I saw a number of British & Irish Lions supporters belt out the Australian National Anthem with more fervour than the locals, but I guess that the one downside of not having an anthem to sing at the game, is that you might want to join in with the opposition’s!
56,771 fans crammed into every available space in Etihad Stadium. The official capacity is only 53,359, but with standing and the comically titled “half view” tickets sold to accommodate the ARU’s desire to bleed every last dollar out of the tourist’s phenomenal appeal, 3,412 additional bodies were able to experience what turned out to be a pretty dour and turgid game. The Lions had surprisingly made 5 changes to the winning team from last week – 2 of the forward changes were forced through injury, the other forward & back changes were partly form, partly tactical and the final one at scrum half remains a closely guarded secret…….
For 75 minutes both teams essentially cancelled each other out. It was scrappy affair throughout, there were many handling errors and big tackles, and it was far from the Brisbane spectacle that that had got us more excited than Wayne Rooney at the Early Learning Centre . The one clear chance either team had, Australia took with aplomb. After sustained possession, Adam Ashley-Cooper pounced from 5 metres out through a misaligned defence, to score and cut the Lions lead to a solitary point. Christian Lealiifano, whose debut last week ended after a mere 52 seconds, stepped up and popped over the conversion to reverse that 1 point deficit with only minutes to go. In yet another twist, as the final siren sounded, Australia conceded a penalty on the half way line to give the Lions a chance of victory. Halfpenny’s attempt fell short which sent the home team and crowd into rapture.
The sour point from the night was the injury to the Wales and Lions captain Sam Warburton, who may well be missing from the final Test. Although, both captains may well be missing, as James Horwill’s stamping/trampling case is being re-heard in order to further disect evidence to determine his fate. He was moved to tears at the final whistle; perhaps he knows that he will be missing from the 3rd Test…….
The biggest and most extraordinary moment of the game came when this happened:
All the more astonishing is the fact that Folau weighs 106 kgs (234 lbs) and he got picked up and carried like he was a naughty schoolboy (primary school, obviously!)….
The atmosphere reflected the game. It was tense, but electric. The Australians were quiet, but the Brits lacked cohesion. The “LIONS, LIONS. LIONS” chants were regular and loud but lacked variety, and it wasn’t quite enough to get the boys over the line. However, it is the passion on the field that counts and the Aussies had this in spades. The final whistle sparked emotions that you rarely see from this set of players. As long as O’Connor and Beale didn’t celebrate this win like they did the loss last week, they should be in good shape for the third Test.
They were photographed with a Lions fan at Hungry Jacks (Burger King) on Tuesday night at 4am. This after Beale had just spent the previous 2 weeks in a rehab clinic!! They were cleared of any wrongdoing by the ARU though…. Lucky they’re not members of the Aussie cricket team, otherwise there may have been an incident!!!!!
AUSTRALIA 16 – 15 BRITISH LIONS
The second test saw our follow-up installment of Mic-watch. Another solid performance from the big lad.
So, we all head up to Sydney for the deciding Test Match next weekend. The deja-vu of the 2001 series is astonishing. I just hope that result can be reversed, otherwise it’ll be another 12 years of ifs, buts, maybes and what the hell happeneds – aaaaarrrrgggghhhhhh!!!!!!!