Last weekend’s New England Patriots victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, was described by their own TV station as “America’s worst nightmare”. The five time world champions had reached yet another world championship game this Sunday. Things were made worse by their victory only coming thanks to an overtime touchdown. They came so close to failing at the final hurdle.
So why are they hated?
In a sport that is based on parity, the Patriots have succeeded like no other team. They’ve made the Super Bowl ten times since 2000, winning it five times. The draft system in the NFL should make such dominance impossible. Unlike UK football, where anyone with a pot of cash can buy the best players and management, there is no guarantee of success.
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are the stars of this astonishing achievement. 41 year old Brady has been been with the Patriots since the sixth round draft in 2000, the year Belichick joined as Head Coach. This double whammy forms the base of their success. The very fact that Brady is still playing when most men of his age have long since retired, is testimony to his preparation and dedication.
Arguably more than any other team, the Patriots know how to win. They have a formula built over 20 years of success. Yes they have an outstanding Head Coach, but they’re not afraid to mix things up. Belichick was rumoured to have created 11 plays the night before their AFC playoff game, and given it to the players in their hotel the night before the game. They successfully used those very the next day, even though they hadn’t a chance to practice them on the field. That’s either incredibly lucky, or sheer brilliance.
So will the Patriots win Super Bowl LIII by beating the Los Angeles Rams? We’ll have to wait and see, but the Rams will have to play at their best to upset the odds.
Every sports fan knows, that every now and then the result of a game beggars belief. On such occasions the form book goes out of the window, and shares in crystal balls plummet. There’s no rhyme or reason to the result…. or is there?
Yesterday saw two Premier League teams exit the FA Cup. In fact only seven of the 20 Premier League teams will play in the 5th round. Millwall beat Wolves in controversial style. But arguably the biggest shock of the 4th round, was AFC Wimbledon’s 4-2 win against West Ham United.
“Making good use of the things that we find. Things that the everyday folks leave behind”
The Wombling Song – Lyrics: Mike Batt
Wimbledon’s squad are a rag bag, but effective, mix of young untamed talent and seasoned journeymen. In fact the cost of their three goalscorers last night was nothing, nada, niente! By contrast the cost of West Ham’s two goalscorers is £50m. The whole West Ham’s squad cost £162m, which could have bought the Wimbledon squad 3000 times over. West Ham’s squad is full of international players. Wimbledon only full international, Montserrat forward Lyle Taylor, left for Charlton Athletic last summer.
So why did AFC Wimbledon triumph?
A lot has been said about desire. The multi-millionaires of Premier League teams used to the trappings of a closeted existence, having to squash into a small changing room with little of the home comforts they’re used to. Throw in a largely partisan home crowd, and it can feel like a world away from where you’d want to be. But these are professionals. They should be able to deal with such situations, but it was clear that for at least the first half they didn’t.
So is the FA Cup a distraction from the bigger prize for Premier League clubs. You could argue that for the big boys, yes it is. The financial gain of winning the FA Cup pales into insignificance compared to winning the Premier League or Champions League. So the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City, and Liverpool could be forgiven for giving the FA Cup a lower priority.
But this was West Ham. They’re currently in 10th place, some 13 points off a European place next season. They’ve next to zero chance of reaching that goal. So with nothing else to play for, why didn’t they:
Field their strongest squad.
Look like they give a toss for the first 45 minutes.
Surely winning the one piece of silver wear they still had a chance of winning should have been a priority. You could argue that the West Ham starting 11 on Saturday was more than capable of winning the game. With the likes of Mark Nobel, Andy Carroll, and Javier Hernández, it should have been men against boys.
For the first half, it wasn’t. West Ham had one early effort that hit the woodwork, but by half time hadn’t threatened the Wimbledon goal further, and had themselves conceded two goals. Half time saw three changes in personal in an effort to get back into the game. But two minutes in and the three players brought on, only stood and watched as Wimbledon went 3-0 up.
Had that early Hernandez chance gone in rather than hitting the post, maybe things would have ended differently. But Wimbledon had enough of the ball before this to suggest they could make a game of it. And once that first deflected shot went in, we suspected something special was about to happen. When a defensive catastrophe led the second goal, we KNEW the shock was very much on.
The second half brought the West Ham cavalry. They scored a good goal ten minutes after we went 3-0 up, then got another from a direct free kick . With 20 minutes left, we suspected West Ham would sneak a draw, or worse, a win. But as the game went on, Wimbledon looked relatively comfortable defensively.
The final nail came with the Dons fourth goal. With 88 minutes gone, most teams would have run down the clock and keep the ball down by the nearest corner flag. Not Wimbledon. They went for the jugular. Their two goal hero Scott Wagstaff passed to Anthony Wordworth who appeared in acres of space in the West Ham penalty area. One exquisite cross to the back stick later, and there was 19 year old academy product Toby Sibbick heading in his first senior goal. A great goal, and an even better goal celebration. As manager Wally Downes said, that goal gave the fans a chance to enjoy those final few minutes. It was the final nail in West Ham’s FA Cup coffin for this season.
With both Millwall and Wimbledon through, the anticipation of who they’d meet in the next round grew to a crescendo. But dreams of away trips to Old Trafford or Anfield we’re dashed, when they were drawn against each other. Yes Wimbledon are at home again in yet another London FA Cup derby. Haringay Borough, West Ham, and now Millwall.
Could Wimbledon’s dream repeat itself? Only time will tell, but Wimbledon fans everywhere will remember Saturday 26th January 2018 for a very, very long time.
Today League One AFC Wimbledon beat fellow League One club Fleetwood Town in the FA Cup third round. It meant they take home £134,000 prize money. They’ll get slightly more as the gate receipts are shared between the two clubs, but as Fleetwood have one of the lowest home attendances in the League, it won’t make a massive difference.
But what difference will the prize money make?
Let’s start with the secretive world of player salaries. AFC Wimbledon have been punching above their financial weight for some years now. They’ve been favourites for relegation so many times, largely because of their low playing budget, yet have so far flattered to deceive.
The average salary of a League One player is around £70,000 per annum. So winning £134,000 nearly pays for two players salary. With a squad of (say) 28 players, a team getting a windfall of that amount, gets a return of approximately 15% of their playing budget.
As mentioned above, things don’t stop there. There is 50% of the gate receipts, after expenses have been deducted. Then if you’re lucky to have your game screened live on TV, there’s anything up to £100k added on top.
So for clubs like AFC Wimbledon, this is a massive amount. The club is currently sitting at the bottom of League One. They’ve put together some useful results of late, only losing one of their last five matches, but are in need of some fresh talent in the transfer window.
So having extra cash in the bank, and the attraction of a fourth round cup tie later in the month, could just tip the balance to getting a player to sign a contract. As an AFC Wimbledon fan myself, I certainly hope so.
Football matches are a traditional way to spend a Boxing Day afternoon. But on this day in 1963, pretty much every football fan who attended a match, saw something special. Take a look at these scores…
West Bromwich Albion
West Ham United
66 goals with an average of over 6.5 per game. As someone said to me today at a game, “That was in the day when they used to drink on Christmas Day.” Maybe that explains the leaky defences.
A couple of weeks ago news broke of José Mourinho’s sacking as manager of Manchester United. It was hardly surprising. The team had been under performing, but more damaging was their style of play. The continuous defensive nature of their displays, combined with his negative demeanour, didn’t go down well with fans.
When news broke of his departure, a lot was made in the media of his payout. Rumoured to be £20m, it seems like a lot for being a failure. It comes with the territory though. His contract was for a set period, so some compensation was necessary for an early termination.
What wasn’t widely reported was Jose’s domestic arrangements. He’d lived in an apartment at the Lowry Hotel in Manchester since being appointed two and a half years ago. He’d chosen to live there, whilst his family remained at their London home. He is reported to have been happy with the arrangements, but it can’t have been easy.
José is quoted as saying, “The most important thing is my family and being a good father.” So the decision to work away from what is important to him and his wife, must have added additional strain to what was an already stressful job. OK Manchester isn’t a million miles away from London, but coming home to an empty apartment / house is never the same.
Anyone who’s experienced bereavement or coming home when their partner is away, can testify that it can be a very lonely experience. Even the strongest person can suffer over time as a result. I’m not saying that Jose did, but it could have been a factor.
In his mind, there were very good reasons for keeping his family in London. He’s very protective of them, and maybe the extra pressure of managing one of the world’s biggest clubs was something he wanted to protect them from. When you move your family, it is more than just houses that need finding. You’re taking children away from their school and friends, your wife away from her support network, and everyone away from what they’re used to.
I wouldn’t say that being away from those you love makes you worse at your job, but it doesn’t help when things aren’t going well. José Mourinho was widely criticised for his negative demeanour running up to his departure. Could this be partly because his domestic arrangements were finally getting on top of him? Only he will know.
I’ve been a Fitbit user for a few years now. I started with the simple but effective Fitbit Charge, before migrating to the Fitbit HR, Fitbit Blaze, and finally the Fitbit Versa. So how does the Versa measure up to those devices and the likes of the Apple Watch?
At first sight, the Ionic looks pretty cool. It’s round corners and beveled edges give it a sleek look, and the way the angled base appears to slide away, makes it disappear into your wrist when it is worn.
The Versa has the same three function buttons as the Blaze, one on the left and two on the right, but their functions are different. The left hand button just turns on or off the screen display, and if you hold the button opens up the music, screen wake, and notification settings. The upper right button allows you to select an activity, or if held displays any notifications you’ve not seen. The lower left button allows you to configure alarms. The right hand buttons can also be used to start, pause, and finish an exercise.
User of the Blaze will be familiar with the Versa’s workings. It is pretty much the same, except for some additions like the ability to:
Auto recognise activity
Turn on the GPS for specific activities
Access a clock face store
One major addition to the Versa is Fitbit Pay. This is like Apple Pay or Paypal, and allows you to associate your credit / debit card with the device. However it is currently only available on a limited number of financial providers. More are promised, but for now this limitation means most users won’t be able to benefit from this.
Another is the ability to download music to the device. This uses a Deezer subscription, although you can also add your own music via the Fitbit phone app. However the cost of a Deezer Premium subscription in addition to the Spotify subscription I have on my phone makes this a non-starter for me.
Additionally the Versa is water resistant, meaning that it can be used whilst exercising in water borne activities.
This is an area where Fitbit fails compared to other fitness trackers, and especially the Apple Watch. It seems like the majority of the R&D effort has gone into the tracker itself, with precious little spent on it’s accessories.
One such gripe is the charger that comes with the tracker. It just feels cheap. It works slightly differently from previous Fitbit chargers, as it uses a vice type hold. You have to pinch both sides and place the device inside before releasing. It may seem a little fiddly at first, but you soon get the hang of it. However the major beef I have is that the charger doesn’t automatically sit properly, unless you either remove the strap or take the trouble to flatten the strap. You shouldn’t have to do either.
Talking of Straps
The Versa comes with two straps. They are both the same black colour, but come in small and large sizes. This negates the need to work out what wrist size you have before buying, but is slightly wasteful. However it does have the advantage of having a spare strap if, like me, the small size fits you.
The straps are fiddly to fit, just like the Blaze, but are fairly cheaply made. It certainly doesn’t say “quality”. This has been an area in other Fitbit watches that I’ve been disappointed with. I’ve been lucky if they’ve lasted nine months.
There are a wealth of online providers that provide replacement straps and accessories, in addition to Fitbit’s own store. These other providers have the advantage of offering a wide range of styles and colours. In the past I’ve even purchased a high end leather strap for everyday wear, only to change it to the bog standard strap when exercising.
Just a word of warning here. The quality of some online Fitbit accessories not purchased through the Fitbit store is very questionable. For example you may find a cheap watch strap that is almost impossible to fit because the straps pins are incorrectly aligned.
The battery life of any Fitbit device is where it wins big time over an Apple Watch. The Versa’s marketing suggests you get 4+ days life from each charge. This all depends on the device’s configuration and how active you are.
For example, using the All Day Sync option decreases the battery life compared to synchronising the device manually once a day. Likewise someone training for a triathlon is likely to find their battery life is significantly less than someone who just walks their dog once a day.
When all is said and done, the battery life is considerably better than the Apple Watch. One major reason I didn’t invest in the Apple Watch was the 18 hour battery life. Even though users I’ve spoken to say they regularly get up to two days from each charge, this is significantly less than a Fitbit device.
Just one more note about Fitbit batteries. With all the devices I’ve owned, there has been a marked reduction in the length of time between charges over time. I’ve noticed the difference from about nine months on. On some devices, after a year the device has become unusable unless you’ve a collection of chargers at various locations. It all reinforces my previous thoughts on the general build quality. Either that or it’s a clever ploy to get us to purchase a newer device!
One nice addition is the number of developers willing to devote time to produce applications for the Versa. One example of this is the number of watch faces available. There are hundreds to choose from, with many of them free. There is one for everyone.
Some extend the functionality of Fitbit by using other services like weather updates. Some of these additional services, like some of the more sophisticated watch faces require a payment. However all of the ones I tried had a trial period of anything from one to three days before any payment was taken.
In my opinion Fitbit devices should not be compared to an Apple Watch. They are two different beasts. In the world of exercise trackers, Fitbit is the one to beat. Their devices may not have the same functionality as Apple devices, but then they are looking at a different market.
The price of the Fitbit Versa is significantly less than an Apple Watch. Throw in the additional battery life, and for me it was a no brainer to continue purchasing a Fitbit device. It may not be for everyone though. You need to think hard about what you want your device to do for you.
The look and feel of the Versa is a big improvement, as it the functionality. The only down sides are the build quality, particularly of the accessories, and the potential loss of battery charge over time. I’ve only had my Versa for about two months, but if past devices are anything to go by, I’ll have to learn to love another device this time next year.
All things considered, I’m very pleased with my Versa, and long live Fitbit so they can keep Apple on their toes.
I’m a fit and healthy individual. I’m competitive, without having outstanding sporting talent. I love exercising, but have never quite made the grade from being an enthusiastic amateur.
This year has been a real test, both physically and mentally. You see I’ve experienced a series of setbacks, some fairly major.
Last March I went for a run near my office. It had been raining slightly, and as I went around a sharp corner, my foot slipped on a metal drain cover. I fell heavily on my left hand side. Picking myself off the ground, I found I couldn’t put any weight on my left leg. I’d fractured my pelvis (ischium).
Deep joy. Three days in hospital whilst my consultant decided if I needed an operation. Thankfully I didn’t, but I received differing quotes of when I would be able to run again. This tended to vary between when I could run run again, to when it would be safe to do so. Anything up to six months of doing nothing, and during the time of year when it is great being outdoors running around your local park.
Two months into my recovery I decided to do a local Park Run. I’d done it the week before by walking around the course. This time I decided to see if I could jog slowly around part of the course. I joined the back of the 350+ runners. As I jogged around, it felt good. So much so, that at the half way point I continued running.
I finished in a little under 36 minutes. Not my fastest time by some margin, but I was more than happy with my fitness. I’d suppressed the urge to end quickly as people sprinted past me in the last few hundred meters.
Later that day I felt really tired. In fact I felt utterly drained. Weird as I hadn’t felt like I’d put in a lot of effort earlier in the day. The following day I developed a rash around my neck and left ear. Shingles! Deep joy. A week of antibiotics, followed by several weeks of letting the virus work though my system. Even now two months later, I’m still not 100%.
Throughout all these issues, I’ve changed my exercise routine to do what I can. I’ve used a cross trainer instead of running. I’ve adapted my gym sessions to include more weights and flexibility work. Trouble is life can still leap up to bite you when you least expect it.
I’ve always been very mildly asthmatic. It is something I don’t tend to notice except in the summer months. For a month or two each year I notice a drop in my breathing efficiency. It doesn’t amount to very much, but it is noticeable, especially during prolonged physical exercise.
This year the English summer has been very warm and dry. My part of London hasn’t experienced any rain, not one drop, since mid May. It’s lovely summer weather and I’m not complaining, but it has created an issue for me. As well as the seasonal shortness of breath, I’ve had a ticklely dry cough, runny nose, and dry mouth.
In an effort to overcome these annoying symptoms, I took some over the counter allergy tablets containing cetirizine hydrocloride. Big mistake. Why?
On day one of taking them, I was unable to walk more than a few hundred meters without having to sit down to catch my breath. It’s a common side effect, but if I’d have known it was going to be that bad I wouldn’t have started taking them.
On day two I started getting a stiff calf muscle. Even having stopped taking the tablets, my calf became so still and sore, I could be found hobbling around. Yes you’ve guessed it, oedema (swelling due to water retention) is a side effect that affects around one in a thousand people. How lucky I am!
Down but not out
Here I am four months into my six month recovery, and it’s been far from straightforward. I’m getting there, but it is frustrating. Some workouts have gone better than others, but that’s normal. Even when 100% fit, you sometimes have sessions when it’s an effort to put one foot in front of the other.
The worst part of the last few months, is that earlier this year I was approaching a level of fitness I hadn’t seen in many a year. My personal best running times may not have been at the levels they were in my mid 20s, but they were coming down. Sometimes by a far margin.
Before all these setbacks, I’d set myself an ambitious 10k target time, and was hoping to run my first half marathon in over 25 years. I was close to meeting the 10k time, and had earmarked a half marathon. I’m not giving up. Those targets still exist, and I can’t wait to get back on the road and smash them.
I write this the morning after Croatia’s win over England in last night’s World Cup semi final. I’m also, as if you need reminding, Irish. So I can write about the game with a degree of detachment, despite having lived in England since three years of age.
Well to a degree. There is no doubt where my loyalty lies when Ireland play England in any sport. Just in the same way most British born Indians want India to beat England in a cricket test, I want to see Ireland trounce England in the Six Nations.
This World Cup is different. For a start, Ireland didn’t qualify. If they had, I’d feel different. Until England progressed and Ireland were knocked out that is. I’m Irish first and foremost, but can support the team that represents where I live, has provided me with a living, and where my family live.
Having a split nationality has it’s advantages. I don’t get hyper at the slightest chance of success. The euphoria ever since England’s 6-1 demolition of Panama, the England media has scented World Cup success. The fans loved this, and happily sang The Lightening Seeds unofficial England anthem. “It’s coming home. It’s coming home. It’s coming. Football’s coming home.” It was everywhere.
My response to such hyperbole was, “Yes, but where to?”
Don’t get me wrong. I wanted England to succeed. It would have been great for this team of inexperience youngsters, and the manager Gareth Southgate. It is just that I could clearly the problems the England team had compared to others. Even the rather laboured win against Tunisia in England’s first game perfectly demonstrated the issues.
We (sorry England!) have talented players. In Harry Kane they’ve a world class striker. In players like Jordan Pickford, Harry Maguire and Kieran Trippier, they have young players that have yet to reach their full potential. That’s a scary proposition for the European Championships in 2020.
Our (there I go again) problems are also the youth and inexperience. On occasions the didn’t manage a game as well as they should. Certain players, should I mention Raheem Sterling, didn’t pass when there were better placed players. Small margins maybe, but these win you games at the top level.
This morning I can go into work with my head held high. My team didn’t lose last night. The same can be said of all England fans. Yes they may have lost a World Cup semi final, but the overall winner was the pride the country showed in their team. The last few weeks have united the country in a way not seen for many a year, and long may that continue.
In the wider scheme of things, the 10th July 2002 won’t go down as a major historical date. In fact the only significant event according to onthisday.com was the sale at Sotheby’s of Peter Paul Rubens’ painting The Massacre of the Innocents for £49.5 million.
In football circles however, the rise of AFC Wimbledon was about to start. The story of this football club is the stuff of legend. It’s about how Wimbledon FC was allowed to move 60 miles from its home, change its name, and alienate it’s entire fan base. All, according to the English Football Association, “in the wider interests of football”.
Not lying down quietly, the fan base set up their own club, held player trails on Wimbledon Common, and organised on this day 16 years ago a friendly against Sutton United. No one knew what to expect. Would anyone turn up?
As it happens, yes they would. Some 4000 fans queued outside Sutton’s ground on a balmy Wednesday evening. So many in fact that the kickoff was delayed by almost an hour to allow them all in.
The rag bag mix of players ran onto the pitch. They weren’t fit, hardly knew each other’s names, let alone where they were supposed to play, but we didn’t care. After a long hard battle to keep our club, we fans just wanted to watch football.
We lost the game, fairly easily as it turned out, but it didn’t matter. Never had a defeat seemed like a victory until that evening. I was there that evening, and the smiles on the faces as we left the ground, is a sight I’ll remember until my last breath.
We knew we were onto something special.
Roll on to 2018 and our club has multiple promotions under it’s belt, turned professional, and maintains a position in the third tier of English football. We’re not the biggest or wealthiest club by some margin, but it was never about wealth or prestige. We just wanted to get back to watching our team play football.
Whether this changes remains to be seen. It is a fact that with our success comes expectation. The sense of anger and injustice over the original decision to allow the club’s relocation is still there, and it manifests itself occasionally in a greed to get back to the Premier League.
We may well have been founder members of the Premier League, but that was almost 20 years ago. These days the league is a different place. Money abounds. Money we don’t have. We run our club on a shoestring. Our playing budget is around £3,000,000. With some Premier League players on £250,000 a week, our budget wouldn’t last long.
So for now we do our best to maintain our position. We’ve got a new ground to look forward to in around 18 months. It’s just down the road from where the old ground was before it was knocked down to make way for apartments. Whenever we play that first game back on Plough Lane, it will be another lump in the throat moment in the life of this incredible club.
When a national team reaches a major tournament, there’s always fevered anticipation as to who’ll be in the squad. At least there should be. As a football fan living in England, it’s clear that there isn’t a particularly high expectation of the English team setting the world alight in Russia. The national team has lived far too long on the 1966 victory, and even then only because of a dubious Russian lineman. The teams of the late 80s and early 90s showed promise, but since then it has been all downhill.
Interestingly current manager Gareth Southgate has picked one of the youngest England squads ever to play in a major tournament. Several household names didn’t make it. That’s a brave call, and either sets him up for a major fall when they lose to Tunisia, or gets him a knighthood when they win a penalty shootout against Germany in the semi-finals.
Goalkeepers: Jack Butland (Stoke), Jordan Pickford (Everton), Nick Pope (Burnley).
Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Fabian Delph (Manchester City), Phil Jones (Manchester United), Harry Maguire (Leicester), Danny Rose (Tottenham), John Stones (Manchester City), Kieran Trippier (Tottenham), Kyle Walker (Manchester City), Ashley Young (Manchester United).
Midfielders: Dele Alli (Tottenham), Eric Dier (Tottenham), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Jesse Lingard (Manchester United), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea).
Forwards: Harry Kane (Tottenham), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Jamie Vardy (Leicester), Danny Welbeck (Arsenal).
Read through the names quickly, and you’d be quite optimistic. With the odd exception, they’re all Premier League first team regulars. Around 75% are from top six clubs, but I can’t help feeling slightly underwhelmed. For a start there are players like Dele Alli. Any Wimbledon fan will tell you that as a former Franchise FC player, they wish he’d disappear into oblivion. My issue with him is that he tries too hard to cheat. He’s young, talented, and immensely arrogant. He’ll get found out at this level.
England’s major problem is defense. There are some OK players, but against the world’s best, I just can’t see them doing well. Even if the likes of Cahill and Jones stay fit. The front line is OK, even if the experiments of having both Vardy and Kane on the pitch at the same time never seems to work. Sterling like Alli dives too much, and Rashford doesn’t dominate games. England’s success depends too much on all players bringing their A game to every game.
Most England fans remember The European Championship two years ago. Back then we were knocked out in the group stage by that major footballing force Iceland! Iceland may not have a team of household names, but they showed that night how 11 players well drilled and playing with pride could upset the form guide.
Southgate’s experiment may well prove to be a tactical masterstroke, but then again it could bring back memories of that truly awful penalty miss against Germany in 1996. Now who was it that missed it again?