Monthly Archives: April 2014

FOOTBALL – April 27th – A-League Semi Final – Brisbane Roar v Melbourne Victory

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The A-League finals have a “Superbowl” feel to them nowadays. The Champions have always been determined by a Grand Final, but in the past, the top two in the league have had second chances in the playoffs. The finals are now a sudden death affair, which doesn’t necessarily lead to great football as teams can sometimes be cagey instead of attacking, and whoever is left standing out of the final two, the highest placed get the right to host the Grand Final (to the league’s discretion of course!).

The semi finals not unexpectedly saw 1st v 4th (Brisbane v Melbourne) and 2nd v 3rd (Western Sydney v Central Coast). Western Sydney had already won their game and then had to wait 24 hours to see who they would be up against in the big one. If Melbourne Victory caused an upset then they would also get the “Home final”.

It’s not too often you get to travel 1000 miles to go to an away game, but I seem to do this one trip more and more. The worst thing is that the Victory never seem to get a result up in Brisbane either. On the plane up on Friday I wrote down what I thought Kevin Muscat (officially the dirtiest ever footballer) would choose as his starting XI. To be completely honest it wasn’t that hard – Muscat is unfortunately tactically inept and lacks any creativity when it comes to working out how to win games of football.

This season – Melbourne Victory finished 4th in a 10 team league. Their results included consecutive 5-0 hammerings to the teams that finished 9th & 6th respectively, followed up a few weeks later with a 4-0 thumping at the hands of cross town rivals, Melbourne Heart, who finished bottom!!! They also finished the season with a negative goal difference. So, in order to turn the tables on the Brisbane Roar, who incidentally won the league by a clear 10 points, Mr. Muscat chose this formation:

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Note the lack of a striker and defensive variation of the world famous “Beefy Box Midfield”. I’d like you to think I am making this up, but I’m not. Muscat truly thought that the Melbourne Victory could beat Brisbane, on their own patch, in a one-legged tie, without a central striker and TWO defensive midfielders sitting just in front of the back 4. Now I am no Bill Shankly, Alex Ferguson or Len Ashurst but I do know that if you let decent teams come at you, then you are playing with fire – and Brisbane are a decent team – at this level.

You run the risk, whereb,y making a mistake could be very costly – and so it proved. Victory’s passing amongst their defenders went astray in the 58th minute and a quick through ball allowed Albanian striker Besart Berisha to dart into the box. He still had a lot to do, but jinked onto his left foot and fired home, beating Coe at his near post – another schoolboy error! Berisha has signed for Melbourne Victory for the 2014/15 season – wonder if he enjoys playing on the wing, as we haven’t seen a genuine centre forward now for quite some time?

Now, with 32 minutes to go, Melbourne had to score at least once to take the game into extra time. Anyone would expect the Victory to up the ante and push for that elusive goal. World record holder Archie Thompson pounced on a half chance to make ex-Victory keeper Theo work a little from 25 yards out, but that was about it. Muscat did eventually make a change – he brought on a defensive midfielder for a defensive midfielder in the 70th minute! With 7 minutes to go, and still at 1-0 down, he did withdraw a centre half for a left winger to try and create something, however in the short space of time that he had available, he couldn’t get up to speed quick enough to make a difference! Just after that, Berisha should have buried the game, but Coe made a wonder save to keep Melbourne alive.

It was at this point that Melbourne finally showed some urgency in their play. Up until this point (86th minute) there had been ZERO. Melbourne threw players forward, pumping balls into the box. It is fairly safe to say that if Melbourne had shown this application and desire for more than the 5 or so minutes than they actually did, they might have got a result. The fans looking back however, will only remember the Berisha goal and this run of play:

So, in the final 4 minutes, Archie Thompson has a point blank shot saved, and a header ricochet off the keeper straight to a defender on the line and back into the keeper’s hands and more criminally, and then a blatant penalty not awarded because the referee bottled it. The referee later admitted he would have only given a penalty unless he was 150% sure. I have no doubt that both the referee and the linesman (sorry, assistant referee) absolutely shat themselves in the heat of the moment in front of the home fans. I saw it from 100 metres away and I was 100% sure. Perhaps I should have been 150% sure???? Bearing in mind this was the same referee who did this to Melbourne Victory’s Nick Ansell earlier in the season:

Was he 150% sure of that one?????

So, another season is over for the Victory – they will be back next year. I will be back next year too!

The Roar will host the Grand Final – they will probably go on and win another Championship – their 3rd in 4 years. They have been the best team all year so they deserve it. No doubt the Grand Final will sell out too. It didn’t help that the first half was quite lacklustre which didn’t make the 28,000+ punters really get their teeth into this game – until the last 5 minutes! Western Sydney will bring 15,000 of their fanatical supporters to Brisbane. The atmosphere will be good; it will probably be bloody good, and a great advert for what the A-League could eventually become. You just have to get rid of negative coaches and dodgy referees…….

HYUNDAI A-LEAGUE

BRISBANE ROAR  1 – 0  MELBOURNE VICTORY

brfc v mvfc winnerCan the Roar go on and win the coveted Silver Toilet Seat?

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TRIATHLON – April 6th – ITU World Series, Auckland, New Zealand

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Different sporting events seem to follow me around rather than vice versa. On my last day in Auckland there just happened to be the first round of the World Triathlon Series. Amazing – but to those that really know me they would think “no surprise!!!!” Triathlon is not my ideal kind of threesome, but that’s another kettle of fish completely. It is however full of world class athletes and seeing as this is part of the World Series, most of the world’s best are at this event. The deep-seated question is though; are these the best in the world or are they just not at elite level at 3 different sports but have unbelievable endurance?

I guess that’s one for the purists – but if you are doing a 1.5km open water swim, a 40km bike ride followed by a 10km run all in one go then perhaps they are elite level masochists instead. It is said that triathlons don’t build character, they reveal it. And the less said about Ironman events the better! A 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride followed by a marathon run (26 miles) – this taking a mere EIGHT hours to complete for the elite guys. Whatever mentalist thought this event was a good idea really does need sanctioning!!!! And in researching this, I inadvertently found out why they do the swim leg first – if you stop running, you can walk; if you stop pedaling, you can freewheel or coast; but if you stop swimming………. glug, glug, glug….

If God invented marathons to keep people from doing anything more stupid, triathlons must have taken Him completely by surprise.

If triathlons were easy, they’d be called your mum!

What I have discovered in the past is that a triathlon is bloody hard to follow if you are a spectator, unless you do it like Auckland does it. The hosts closed off the city centre lock, stock and barrel. They use the harbour for the swim and the CDB streets for the bike and run legs. None of the action is too far away and you can effectively catch and follow the race without too much difficulty. The start of the race is pretty spectacular too. 67 competitors spread across a pontoon all dive into the water at the same time.

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The men’s winner completed the course in 1hr 54mins. The swim takes around 18 mins, just over an hour on the bike and just over half an hour for the run. I was amazed at how far the guys swam just to warm up – probably half a mile or so – just to warm up! There was a really good crowd in for the start of the race who stayed until the end of the transition between the swim and the bike leg. The transition area is possibly the best hive of activity for spectators, but as soon as that was over, they soon dispersed into the city streets as there were a large number of really good vantage spots around the course for the other disciplines.

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The bike course even had a few short, sharp hills to test the competitors too, although the run was flat. You are able to get up real close to the competitors and during the runs, you could see that their bodies were hurting. Some of the runners genuinely looked like me trying to drag my sorry butt round on a normal jog. The only difference being they had already done an hour and a half’s worth of swimming and riding, and I would be just at the end of my road!

What is truly a complement to the sport was that in the women’s race there were 9 different Nationalities in the Top 10 – and there were 2 Brits on the podium too!! There were 6 in the men’s race; where Aussies finished 3rd, 4th and 5th, all within 10 seconds of each other too. This race also doubled up as a Commonwealth Games qualifier for the Aussies and Kiwis so there was a lot riding (no pun intended) on it for them. The top Kiwis finished in 6th place in both the men’s and women’s races. After flogging yourself for 2 hours, what is the prize? A trip to Glasgow…… Second prize, two trips to Glasgow…

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All in all, it was quite a nice way to pass a day. The weather was good, the course was quite tight through Auckland’s CBD, so that you were never too far away from any action and you couldn’t possibly get lost. There was a sizeable crowd that were always encouraging. And if you did get bored, you could always pop into the shops to break it up. It was good to see an event that was so well planned and ably managed.

Speaking as an International marketer, Barfoot & Thompson would have shelled out a pretty penny to be the naming rights sponsor of this event. Quite how they got or will get value for money intrigues me no end. I’m guessing that they are very keen triathletes themselves, but they would be marketing to a fairly specialist group. Don’t get me wrong, their branding is everywhere, and even I now know that they are New Zealand’s largest privately owned and Auckland’s leading real estate company – thus, in a sample of one; if brand awareness was their target, then they have succeeded in their goal. I am just intrigued how a triathlon event sponsorship fits within their marketing budget and what they would hope to return from it. Going back to an age old adage though – “without publicity there is no prosperity!” – I suppose it’s all about exposure – and the prestige of presenting the medals!

Event video to follow:

ITU WORLD SERIES ROUND 1

MENS WINNER: Javier Gomez (SPA)

WOMENS WINNER: Jodi Stimpson (GBR)

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SPEEDWAY – April 5th – Speedway Grand Prix, Auckland, New Zealand

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I make no bones about it. There is nothing more beautiful in motorsport than seeing a group of speedway bikes slide round a bend in full flight. The noise, the smell, the speed and the closeness of the racing, all make this sport something you have to go and experience live. Faster off the line than Formula 1 car, 80mph down the straights, no gears, no brakes and you have to turn right to go left….. That’s speedway – and when you get 16 of the best riders in the world in the same meeting, then it’s worth the trip across the ditch. However, when I say 16, I really mean 13. Two of the riders were gifted their spots in the World Championship due to other, better riders withdrawing their services due to politics – but it’s not really worth spending the effort debating that issue.

The remaining rider in the meeting is an adopted Kiwi; a 35 year old journeyman from Milton Keynes. Jason Bunyan has been wintering in New Zealand for the past 10 years and because the standard of New Zealand riders has gone by the wayside, since the world domination of the 60s and 70s by household names Barry Briggs, Ronnie Moore and Ivan Mauger. Bunyan has landed the Kiwi Title 9 out of the past 10 years (the other one he missed through injury!) and when the GP circus came to Auckland, he became the logical choice to represent his adopted homeland. In the previous GPs he has picked up a single point in each – gained by beating another rider in one race (you get 3 points for first, 2 for second & 1 for a third in each race).

Mind you, young Aussie hotshot, Darcy Ward nearly didn’t even make it past customs. After filing a “fraudulent” declaration card, a sniffer dog took rather a liking to Mr. Ward, who has had his run-ins with authorities in recent years, and it was discovered that Darcy was concealing an undercover apple in his possession. When the National headlines of the day was a fruit fly had been found the day before, the New Zealand armed forces were on full alert. After being checked wholly for infestation, the New Zealand customs department decided to let Darcy into the country, but detained the apple for further questioning.

Darcy, in the end, may have wished he didn’t make it through customs. After being shunted heavily TWICE into the fence in Heat 10, his next race 14 saw him get T-boned by the German Smolinski. Darcy was knocked unconscious, suffered some knee damage and broke his thumb in the crash – not to mention the costly damage to his bike and helmet!!

The racing was much closer this year than the previous meetings here. It was also moved back to a 6pm start this year to create more of a spectacle under lights. Western Springs is a spectacular venue, surrounded by hills and houses; under lights it becomes even more amazing!

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Over 12,000 showed up to watch what could possibly be the last Grand Prix meeting at Western Springs. Putting on a speedway meeting is apparently unbelievably expensive – possibly not in the Bernie Ecclestone bracket, but punter for punter and dollar for dollar it must come pretty close. It was damn expensive too ($120 NZ to sit in the grandstand & $NZ 60 for everywhere else). The promoter somehow is still not breaking even so the costs of putting it on must be extortionate restrictive (probably not allowed to use extortionate!). This would be such a shame as speedway needs meetings like this one, on a dedicated facility outside of the European heartland.

Ward’s 3 crashes certainly delayed the meeting, as it ran for close to 4 hours. Martin Smolinski, a German, ended up winning the final. I stress that he is a German. It is a fact that even making it into the GP series is quite a shock, let alone winning one. To draw somewhat of a comparison, I guess having a British world class surfer, Chilean snooker player or Jamaican bobsleigher (oh, wait…..) would be close. Smolinski is taking his opportunity to shine with both hands; and the series is better off with a hungry German, than someone else just looking for a payday.

British World Champion Tai Woffinden also got off his sick bed to make the Auckland leg of his title defence. Woffinden discharged himself from a Leicester hospital the previous Sunday in order to make his flight down under. Woffinden suffered 3 crashes in a league meeting and had sustained back pain and ligament damage in his right foot. He arranged for a physio to meet him off the plane in Auckland so try to manage the pain before suiting up for the GP.

They (the doctors) weren’t too impressed when I said ‘I’m leaving, I’ve got a flight to catch to New Zealand! But that’s the way it is; it had to be done.I’m on crutches and the problem is I have to use my right foot which is the one with the ligament damage.

That was caused by the first crash. I thought I’d fractured my foot at first, but thankfully that’s not the case and I will be trying to rest it completely once I get to Auckland. If I have to miss the first practice to make the GP, then so be it.

I will be riding next Saturday. I’m determined to do all the right things this week, but it’s not the best preparation for the first GP of the season.

– Tai Woffinden on just getting to New Zealand

Woffinden scored a gutsy 7 points on the night and only just missed the semi-finals on a countback. It’s a solid start for the Brit that was a 500/1 outsider when he won the World Championship last year. Imagine a footballer playing through the pain barrier just to get out there – oh no, you can’t… they just wouldn’t would they????

Chris Holder flew the flag for the Aussie contingent – again a huge amount flew across for the meeting – it was estimated 2000+ Aussies flew over for this. Imagine what it would be like to have a GP in Australia – perhaps even a double header weekend in Melbourne with the Formula 1?? You heard it here first!!! Holder made the semi final with 10 points from his heats and was unlucky not to make the final when he got squeezed out by Dane Nicki Pedersen in the semi final showdown. The final was contested by a Swede, a Dane, a Pole and a German – there is possibly some sort of joke in there somewhere, but I’d rather leave that for now.

I will put up a different video of the event, but for now, this clip of the final catches all of the excitement. There has been 170+ Grand Prix Finals and this was probably the best one of the lot. Martin Smolinski wears the Yellow helmet. It pays to follow his progress through the race and see the miracle and beauty that is World Championship Speedway.

We can only hope that the Auckland round of the Speedway GP continues long into the future. Let’s also hope it becomes an annual double header with a round in Australia the week before – it could happen!!!!

ROUND 1 – SPEEDWAY GRAND PRIX

WINNER: Martin Smolinski (GER)

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FREESTYLE JETSKI – April 4th – Karioitahi Beach, New Zealand

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I had actually traveled to Auckland for the First Round of the Speedway GP Series and found myself looking for something to do on the preceding day – I was actually waiting for an interview to be confirmed, but that never happened! So what else do you do apart from heading off to a secluded beach on the West Coast of the North Island, about half an hour South of Auckland. When you get a little bit off the beaten track in New Zealand, signposts do not seem to be their strong point. I got close to where I thought I should be, but clearly not close enough. Another half hour later after driving uphill and down dale, I finally cleared the final rise and dropped down sharply, to pull onto a black sanded beach. Apart from me and two horses, there is no-one there; except for the throng of 60 odd jetskis!!!!

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So what is The Yamaha Festival of Freeride all about? Essentially, it’s about expressing yourself on a jetski and using the favourable conditions to see what you can actually get a jetski to do. This generally includes back flips, side flips, massive air as well as some fancy trickery. Apparently “this spot on the west coast offers an ideally consistent swell, which encourages a wide variety of tricks” – I was told this by one of the competitors – can you tell? I have to be honest, he wasn’t wrong – the results are quite amazing.

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Saying that it is easy to watch, but the event is difficult to follow – there are no announcements and no public viewing information; although I was probably the only spectator there that wasn’t related to any of the riders – I guess everyone else knew what was happening! However, it is non-stop action so I didn’t really have to know. As soon as 1 group finishes their session, the next group are straight out there. All you have to do is keep watching the water, ready for the spectacular!

There are only a few sessions that are “competitive”, and these are elective options only – I guess the rest of the time, you are just having mountains of fun! I am lead to believe that the “biggest air” and “trickiest trick” are the blue riband events. However, they do also give prizes to the “cherry-poppers” – those riders that successfully pull off a back flip for the first time.

 

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It was a nice distraction from the everyday sports I get to watch. Seeing as these were generally the local Kiwis having a go, I wouldn’t mind witnessing something on a more International scale, if there is such a thing. Some of the tricks that these guys were pulling off were “fully sick bro”. I can only imagine what the X-games types may be able to carry off. The mind boggles.

 

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