All posts by Hassan Abdullah

Is it time for captain Cook to go?

He is England’s most capped player, their highest-ever scorer, longest-serving Test captain, and is a double Ashes-winning skipper.

But all good things must come to an end, and Alastair Cook’s leadership of England’s Test team looks set to end ahead of the summer.

“Captaincy always brings pressure… when things do not go your way, instantly questions will be asked of you”

After this winter’s tour struggles in Bangladesh and India, is the time right for the Essex man to step down?

Joe Root, the current vice-captain of the Test side and Cook’s most likely successor, has loyally expressed his desire for him to remain as skipper.

“I do think he’ll make a decision in the best interests of the team, and in my opinion it would be great if he did stay on and lead it forward. I think he’s got a lot to offer.

“Regardless of what decision he makes – whether he’s captain or not – he will continue to be a massive leader and a focal part of this team moving forward.”

Pressure

Former Ashes-winning England captain Michael Vaughan does, however, expect Cook to resign. He told BBC Sport: “His body language over the last three matches [Against India, all ending in defeat]… he looks like he might be thinking of calling it a day.”

Cook without a doubt is one of England’s greatest cricketers, having amassed over 11,000 Test runs. His average as captain in Test cricket is an impressive 47.84, but his recent form in the series in Bangladesh and India has dented that.

Cook’s top score in the series in India, at Rajkot in November, was 130. One century in your last 14 innings is not good enough.

Captaincy always brings pressure. You are expected to thrive in every match but when things do not go your way, instantly questions will be asked of you.

Nothing left to prove?

One example would be Angelo Mathews being captain of the Sri Lankan team. In Test cricket, Mathews’s average has sky-rocketed to 50.94 as captain when critics have been on his back for not scoring runs.

“The pressure onSangakkara was lifted and he was freed up to focus on delivering match-winning performances for his team”

This shows that Mathews has the ability to handle pressure as captain and continue to score runs and produce hundreds.

This situation on the England Test captaincy is similar to when MS Dhoni gave up the leading India during their Test series against Australia in 2014, with Virat Kohli succeeding him.

After a stellar career at Test level, Dhoni probably felt he had nothing left to prove, and the negative of the job had begun to outweigh the positives.

Cook won’t want to step down after a bad winter for England, but he’s achieved so much and has cemented his place in England’s cricket history.

Match-winning performances

Of course, no-one is suggesting Cook should actually stop playing for England as well. As Root says, he still has a lot to offer, and with the pressures and responsibilities of the captaincy removed, he can just focus on his batting.

Cook’s best Test innings came pre-captaincy in 2011 against India when he scored a mammoth 294. Giving up being skipper has benefited other players, including Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara.

In 15 matches as Test captain, Sangakkara scored seven Test hundreds with one double century. Pretty good, but after he gave up the captaincy in 2011, he became a run machine that could not be stopped.

He scored another 13 hundreds, with three double centuries and one triple ton between June 2011 and August 2015.

The pressure was lifted and he was freed up to focus on delivering match-winning performances for his team.

Inspiring young players

Another reason why Cook should give up the captaincy but remain in the side is because it will benefit up-and-coming Test players, with his experience helping inspire the likes of Haseeb Hameed.

“Root will surely become England’s captain and has the potential to lead them to even greater heights than Cook”

The possibility of him giving up Test cricket completely can’t be totally ruled out, and it would allow younger players a chance to get into the side.

Personally, I think England should want to keep Cook in the Test side, freed from the stresses and strains of the captaincy.

Less pressure will be on him, he can focus on his main strength which is his batting, whilst also helping younger players who are finding their feet at Test level.

But Root will surely become England’s captain and has the potential to lead them to even greater heights than Cook.

‘Rio was one of the scariest experiences ever’

Representing your country at any major sporting event is bound to generate nerves, but for Team GB wheelchair racer Ben Rowlings the 2016 Paralympics took that to another level. 

“Rio was one of the scariest experiences ever,” he told me. “To go to my first [Paralympic] games, with all the expectations and hype around it, was a really weird feeling.

“If I’m honest, was overwhelming, waiting under the stadium and hearing the crowd erupting from the race before was scary and something I really wasn’t ready for.”

Rowlings competed in the T34 class 100m and 800m events, but sadly wasn’t able to add to the three bronze medals he won at this year’s IPC Athletics European Championships in Grosetto, Italy.

Nonetheless, the 20-year-old from Shropshire was overwhelmed by the warm acclaim received by Team GB’s Olympians and Paralympians on their return home.

Inspirational

“The reception I’ve had since I’ve got back from Rio has been overwhelming, I never thought it would have the impact it has,” he said.

“You get to do some amazing things like going on the pitch at Wembley at half-time during rugby matches.

“I didn’t care who had beaten me, I had medalled at my first major championships for my country”

Then, on the flip-side, you have kids coming up to you telling you that you’ve inspired them to get into sport or try something new, and that hits home and makes everything worthwhile.”

Rowlings, who has cerebral palsy, was once one of those kids, waiting to be inspired to find a sport he could excel in.

Initially, he thought it might be swimming, but a severe allergic reaction to chlorine left him sneezing every time he went into the pool.

This led him to try wheelchair  racing, and the switch paid off.

Quickest

Coached by Job King at the Coventry Godiva Harriers club since 2011, he showed consistency in 100m, 200m and 800m, moving up the world rankings and competing at meets in Dubai and Switzerland.

As the hard work continued, Rowlings made it into the Team GB lottery-funded World Class Performance Programme in 2014 and raced at that year’s IPC European Championships in Swansea, coming third in the T34 800m final..

“It was a race that could do so much and define my season,” he recalled. ” I can’t remember much, other than the gun sounding and going out hard, the quickest I have ever pushed.

“The rest of the race is a blur, all I know is I crossed the line having won bronze and that it was the best feeling ever.  I didn’t care who had beaten me, I had medalled at my first major championships for my country.”

Training

Rowling is currently training hard, and looking to build on the experience he gained in Rio this summer as he aims for more medals.

“There are days when my body just aches and you just don’t want to move, but you have to just get up and go”

“At the moment I’m in my off-season so I’m doing lots of miles, anywhere between 15-20 a day, with lots of hours in the gym on top.

“As we get into the season, the mileage will come down as we get ready to sharpen up for the the major events, but I’ll be training 2-3 times a day six days a week all year round.

“Day in day out it’s just time management trying to manage training 2-3 times a day, working part-time and recovery is tough.

“There are days when my body just aches and you just don’t want to move, but you have to just get up and go.”

London, then Tokyo

With the experience of Rio 2016 now under his belt, Rowling is setting his sights on next year’s IPC World Athletics Championships in London.

“I’m just taking it one season at a time, so in 2017 we have the Worlds in London and that will be huge, racing in front of a home crowd.

“But looking forward I want to make the squad for the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo, and once I’m there perform better than I did in Rio.

“I have a massive point to prove because I didn’t race as well as I know I could have in Brazil.”

You can follow Ben Rowlings on Twitter @BenRowlings and on Instagram @benrowlings.

Having a go at BMX racing

Watching the BMX riders at the 2016 Rio Olympics riding at full speed and flying over those bumps made up my mind that I should give BMX cycling another go. 

The last time I tried it was was four or five years ago. It was a wet, damp day and I remember skidding on a curved bend in the track. Covered in mud and with cuts on my hands and knees, I decided to never try BMX again…

History

BMX cycling began in the 1970s in the United States where kids in Southern California rode their bikes on dirt tracks. The inspiration came from motorcross stars. The sport is hugely popular in the UK where it was first introduced around about the 1980s.

Since then, BMX racing has become more popular than freestyle BMX, eventually becoming an Olympic event at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Mat Hoffman is one of the best freestyle BMX in the world. Nicknamed ‘The Condor’ he is known for nailing dangerous tricks such as a 900 in events.

This video shows Hoffman showcasing his tricks at BMX free-styling events.YouTube Preview Image

Trying again

So on a sunny, winter morning, I decided to take my bike out and go for a normal bike ride through Brixton and Tulse Hill. I rode through Brockwell Park, where the BMX circuit was free and waiting for me to do my stuff.

I began going around the track slowly, wary of skidding or falling again. It was fun but I felt I should speed up. Luckily the track was not damp and wet like the last time, so it was easier to go around the bends with ease.

I was not able to do fancy tricks or anything like that but being able to ride the track at full speed was an enjoyable experience – much better than the last time, that’s for sure…

Learning from the experts

A coaching session was just getting under way,  with young riders doing some practice laps to get them warmed up.

“Seeing them flash past made my earlier efforts look like a Tata Nano compared to their Bugatti Veyron”

I spoke to one of the coaches, Andy, who has been training BMXers for six years. He told me: “BMX racing is really competitive and a lot more goes into the sport rather than just riding a bike around a lap.

“The training consists of strength drills, a lot of cardio such as star-jumps. Riders can get serious injuries if they do not train right, follow the right diet and other small factors. Essentially they are athletes.

“I have seen many riders have their careers ended early because they did not listen to their trainers, but sometimes those injuries can come from during the races itself. It’s can be dangerous but it’s a competitive and fun sport to watch as well as participating in.”

As we talked, the riders began doing some fancy tricks as well as trying to beat their personal bests in a race. Seeing them flash past made my earlier efforts look like a Tata Nano compared to their Bugatti Veyron.

Give it a go

Andy decided to organise one big race with all the riders, and asked me if I wanted to join in. Despite my nerves, I said yes.

The race began and the other riders went flying out of the blocks as I tried to keep up with them.

My main aim was not to fall off and totally embarrass myself in front of everyone. Luckily, I didn’t and crossed the line in fifth.

I would really recommend anyone to give it a go. It can be so much fun to try and be extreme and reckless with a bike. It is also always good to try a different sport now and then.

There are some places around London where you can try out BMX racing. Brockwell park in Tulse Hill, South London is one place where you can try it out. Burgess Park also has a track.

For more information about how to get into BMX, visit the British Cycling website.  Feature image courtesy of Phil Connell via Flickr Creative Commons.

How did Sri Lanka fare in 2016?

It’s been a distinctly mixed year for Sri Lankan cricket. There were many highs as well as many lows – from being totally outclassed by England in all formats to breezing past the Aussies in the Test series. 

The year started in preparation for the 2016 ICC World T20, hosted by India. Sri Lanka had a mammoth task in trying to defend their crown without the likes of the retired Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.

Before the World T20, they had a short tour of India and made the journey to Bangladesh to compete in the 2016 Asia Cup.

South African Graham Ford returned as head coach – a position he left in 2013 – and he and the selectors picked a bunch of fresh names for the challenge.

Vice-captain Dinesh Chandimal took charge, and the side to face seasoned stars such as MS Dhoni and Rohit Sharma included young fast bowlers Kasun Rajitha and Binura Fernando.

The tour started well, and Sri Lanka surprised the Indian spectators as they won the first game by five wickets. However, India went on to win the series 2-1.

The Asia Cup provided worryingly little improvement, and the only game Sri Lanka won was against the UAE.

World T20 shambles

That turned out to be a taste of the disastrous things to come at the World T20.

Sri Lanka went into the tournament without feared fast bowler Lasith Malinga – out with a knee injury – who would have played a key role in their title defence. The Lankans were also in a tough group along with England, West Indies, South Africa and Afghanistan.

“The tour of England came around and with it a chance to see some new faces prove their worth”

They defeated minnows Afghanistan in the first game but went on to lose all their others, although there was some close encounters.

They nearly handed a defeat to England but crashed to bad losses against West Indies and South Africa to make a humiliatingly early exit. The Windies went on to win the tournament, defeating England in the final.

Much soul-searching followed, with speculation about whether the veteran Tillakarante Dilshan would retire, and questions asked about the calibre of some of the players picked.

As it was, Dilshan carried on but veteran bowler Rangana Herath decided to retire from T20s, and then the tour of England came around and with it a chance to see some new faces prove their worth.

Skittled in England

Going to England, Sri Lanka were always seen as the underdogs in all of the formats – and so it proved as the tourists failed to win a single game against the hosts.

“The one-dayers were no different, with lacklustre displays throughout”

For their fans, it was miserable to see poor performances in pretty much every match. The last time Sri Lanka toured England was in 2014, when they made a winning clean sweep of the one-day, T20 and Test series.

But there were still some individuals who managed to stand out and have a pretty good tour. Kusal Mendis impressed many, scoring 53 in the first Test in a pressure situation.

Captain Angelo Mathews showed some consistency with the bat, scoring 34 in the first Test and 80 in the second.

Those were the only positives to take from the Test series, however, and the one-dayers were no different, with lacklustre displays throughout aside from a few good individual performances such as that of wicketkeeper Dinesh Chandimal.

Steamrolling Australia

The home Test series, beginning in July, gave Sri Lanka a chance to get back on track with victory over the mighty Australians.

Herath remains one of Sri Lanka’s best bowlers. Pic by Jumpy News, flickr creative commons

That lofty aim became a reality as Sri Lanka won the series 3-0.

Herath was the best bowler, taking 28 wickets in the three matches as well as being name player of the series, and a new hero came to light in the shape of Dhananjaya De Silva.

De Silva scored 325 runs with a best of 129. Kusal Mendis was also in scintillating form, with a top score of 176 in the first Test.

For the first time this year, Sri Lankan supporters had something to cheer and be proud about.

Whitewashing Australia in a Test series will certainly be a top memory for many fans, and one of the most memorable achievements in the country’s cricketing history.

The one-day series that followed felt like a close encounter despite the fact that Sri Lanka lost the series 4-1.

Dominance

Months after the Australia tour, Zimbabwe presented a new challenge. Chandimal and Mathews did not travel due to injury, so it was a chance for other players to gain some experience. Herath was named as captain for the Test series and guided his side to a 2-0 win.

The whole team clicked and once Mathews and Chandimal come back, there will certainly be tough competition for places in the starting XI.

The Sri Lankan side are currently still in Zimbabwe competing in a tri-series along with the West Indies and Zimbabwe.

The Lankans end 2016 with a really tough tour to South Africa, with the first Test beginning on Boxing Day.

With good form since defeating Australia, you never know, they could rise to the occasion and win a Test series against South Africa for the first time.

Q&A – Bake Off star Selasi

If you’re a fan of The Great British Bake Off, you will have seen Selasi Gbormittah competing for the coveted title.

The Ghanaian, whose family moved to the UK 15 years ago, became known to millions of viewers for his calmness and humour throughout the most recent series, as well as producing eye-catching flavours and bakes.

He ended up as a semi-finalist and went out with his head held high, having served up everything from a beautiful three-tiered ombre floral cake to iced hot biscuits which spiced up Mary Berry’s tastebuds.

As well as baking, Selasi, who works in banking, has other hobbies such as playing basketball and has a strong interest in motorcycles.

Elephant Sport spoke to the 30 year old about his sporting stories and his love for basketball and bikes, and much more.

Firstly, what inspired you to play basketball?

It is sport played back in Ghana at schools and all around. Football was also popular although I took more of a liking to basketball. I played for three years for my university basketball team. I still have the jersey and refuse to get rid of it.

Do you have a favourite NBA team?

Yes, the LA Lakers.

What basketball position do you play in?

Guard. I’m a pretty good three-point shooter.

You enjoy riding motorcycles, do you have a collection of different bikes?

I don’t have that luxury yet, but I’m planning to get one or two more additions as the current one feels a little bit lonely. Another sportsbike or a café racer for easy rides across London.

What is your favourite motorcycle?

I love sportsbikes. I started off on a naked bike, but sportsbikes walk the talk.

Are you interested in other sports such as football or rugby? If you like football, do you have a favourite team?

I enjoy football. I don’t understand rugby as much as I would like to. I had a mid-life crisis (as my friends call it), a few years back and joined a local rugby team to understand the sport a bit better, but I quit within weeks. Anyway, back to football – I’m a Chelsea fan.

Do you have any funny or memorable moments of playing any sport? If so, would you kindly share that story?

Yes, during a basketball game with I think Loughborough University, we were losing and I decided to take a shot because I thought time was up and it ended up being a rather embarrassing ‘air ball’. My coach was NOT impressed because we still had two minutes to go and I got sent to the bench.

Growing up, did you have dreams of becoming a sportsman?

No chance. I wanted to be a chef and work in the kitchen.

Favourite basketball player and why?

Kobe Bryant, a great player and a real all-rounder. He led the team and is a real role model.

Favourite football player and team and why?

Didier Drogba. Way too many out there but Drogba stands out as he used to torment defenders, ha, ha! He’s also a great leader for the sport and does a lot of work outside of football to help others less fortunate than him.

And lastly, are you planning to have a motorcycle ride with Paul Hollywood soon?

Who knows with this UK weather!

You can find Selasi on Twitter @selasigb and on Instagram @selasigb. Featured image courtesy of the BBC.

Five successful sporting switches

We all have an occasional urge to do something new to freshen up our lives, and trying out a new sport is one way of doing it.

But imagine if that urge could lead to a potentially lucrative and dazzling new career when you’re already made a name for yourself as a sportsman.

The most recent star to switch from one sport to another is former Bundesliga goalkeeper Tim Wiese, who made a successful WWE pro-wrestling debut in Munich.

We look at five other moves that paid off.

5. Andrew Flintoff – from cricket to boxing to cricket

Flintoff strikes a pose. Pic by Adam Cool© , flickr creative commons

Many cricketers have shown their talents for other sports. Dennis Compton, for example, played 78 Tests for England but also had a successful career as a footballer with Arsenal.

England legend Sir Ian Botham also played football whilst playing Test cricket, while South Africa’s Jonty Rhodes played hockey and was actually selected to represent his country at the 1992 Summer Olympics.

A more recent familiar example is Andrew Flintoff’s decision to try professional boxing after retiring from cricket. The former England all-rounder made his pro debut in Manchester 2012 against Richard Dawson from the US.

It ended successfully for Flintoff as he won the fight, which was filmed as part of a TV documentary about his switch from the pitch to the ring.

However, ‘Freddie’ decided to quit while and he was ahead opted instead to make a cricketing comeback.

He came out of retirement to compete for Lancashire in the 2014 Natwest T20 Blast, and also went to Australia later that year to play in the Big Bash for the Brisbane Heat, before finally calling it a day.

4. Adam Gemili – football to athletics

Team GB sprint star Adam Gemili’s footballing career started at Chelsea as a youth player since at the age of eight, and he went on to ply as a defender for Dagenham & Redbridge and Thurrock FC.

Maybe he suspected deep down that soccer stardom was out of his reach, so he opted to develop his other talent – for running fast – instead and left football behind in favour of athletics in 2012.

His most successful achievement on the track to date came at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow when he finished second in the men’s 100m final.

Still only 23 years of age, he’s surely on course to add to his medals tally on the international stage in the next few years.

3. Fabien Barthez – from football to motorsport

MOTORSPORT - GT TOUR 2012 - PAUL RICARD - LE CASTELLET (FRA) - 26 TO 28/10/2012 - PHOTO : FLORENT GOODEN / DPPI - BARTHEZ FABIEN - TEAM SOFREV ASP FERRARI 458 ITALIA - AMBIANCE PORTRAITFormer Manchester United star Fabien Barthez was known as a fabulous shot stopper, and was named ‘keeper of the tournament as France won the 1998 World Cup.

He also helped his country to win Euro 2000, and won plenty of league titles and cups at club level for the likes of United, Marseille and Monaco.

After retiring in 2007, he swapped football strips for racing suits as he developed a successful career in motorsport.

He has competed in competitions including the Porsche Carrera Cup France, the FIA GT Series and Caterham Sigma Cup France.

In 2013 he was crowned French GT champion, and in 2014 took part in the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans. Driving a Ferrari 458, he and his co-drivers finished 29th overall and ninth in their class.

2. Sonny Bill Williams – from rugby league to boxing to rugby union

Sonny Bill Williams has had an extraordinary career. An true icon to many, the New Zealander has achieved a ton of success in his time.

From winning two Rugby World Cups and several honours in rugby league, to remaining unbeaten in his boxing career, Williams is surely on of the greatest athletes in the world.

He started out in rugby league, playing for the Canterbury Bulldogs and Sydney Roosters as well as for New Zealand.

He then decided to make a switch to boxing and was unbeaten in seven fights, winning them all, including three by knockout, and claiming the New Zealand heavyweight crown and WBA international belt along the way.

However, rugby union came calling again and he returned to the 15-man code in time to become part of the All Blacks squad which won the 2011 World Cup, helping them to retain it in 2015.

1. Brock Lesnar – multi-sport athlete

Not only he can fight, he can play American football too. Brock Lesnar has success written all over him.

Winning multiple championships in the WWE and New Japan pro-wrestling – as well as dominating the MMA/UFC scene – he also had a brief spell at the Minnesota Vikings in the NFL.

Lesnar signed with WWE in 2000, making his main roster debut in 2002. He went on to become the youngest undisputed WWE champion at the age of 25, a King of the Ring and Royal Rumble winner as well as ending Undertaker’s Wrestlemania streak in 2014.

Nicknamed ‘The Beast’, Lesnar put his WWE career on hold in 2004 in order to pursue a career in American football as a defensive tackle. He was recruited by the Minnesota Vikings for the 2004-05 campaign and played several pre-season games but was then cut from their roster.

UFC came calling, and it was a fresh challenge for Lesnar. He had nine fights, winning six of them, but has now returned to the WWE and has a bout against Goldberg in the Survivor Series on November 20th.

RB Leipzig – Germany’s most hated football club

MK Dons have never been very popular outside of Milton Keynes among football fans because of their ‘Franchise FC’ roots.

But imagine how despised they might now be if they had gatecrashed the Premier League a few seasons after assuming Wimbledon’s identity, throwing wads of cash around in the process.

About as hated as Red Bull Leipzig are by other Bundesliga fans…

RBL gained promotion to the German top-flight last season, and it’s fair to say the rapid rise of the former East German minnows has enraged supporters of rival clubs.

The reason for the widespread antagonism towards them lies in the ‘Red Bull’ part of their name…

Who are RB Leipzig?

Formally known as SSV Markranstadt, they were bumbling along in Germany’s lower leagues until 2009 when the energy drink giant purchased the club and gave it a full makeover, changing its name, club badge, kit, the works.

RB Leipzig fans showing support for their team. Pic by strassenstriche.net ©. flickr creative commons.

Red Bull’s billionaire owner Dietrich Mateschitz had been looking for a club to invest in since 2006, trying without success in cities including Hamburg, Dusseldorf and Munich.

Firm plans were drawn up at one stage to purchase Fortuna Dusseldorf and rename it as Red Bull Dusseldorf, but they became public and were rejected by the club’s members.

Eventually, Mateschitz settled for buying and transforming SSV Markranstadt, and since then has pumped large sums of money into the club.

With RB Leipzig curently second in the Bundesliga, the Austrian is now reaping the rewards – and still spending.

The Bulls made a statement of intent for this season by signing Scottish international Oliver Burke from Nottingham Forest for £13m, and have Andre Wisdom on loan from Liverpool.

Success

Leipzig are the first club from the old East Germany to gain promotion to the Bundesliga for seven years, and Mateschitz has stated he wants them to win it within the next couple of seasons.

Of course, where success is perceived to be the result of becoming a rich man’s play thing, dislike – if not downright hatred – is likely to follow.

Geoff, who is a Brighton-based fans of Bundesliga rivals FC St Pauli, believes RB Leipzig’s achievements run counter to German football’s traditions.

“Germans are proud of their tradition fan culture,” he told me.  ‘It’s what’s attracts many suppporters from outside Germany to clubs like St Pauli instead of the modern football typified by the English Premier League.”

“The involvement of Red Bull financially, their branding and RB’s control of the fan membership is an abuse to the 50+1 rules”

For many, Red Bull’s involvement violates the spirit of German football’s 50%+1 rule, whereby ordinary members have a controlling stake in their local club, and commercial interests can’t gain overall control.

As Geoff explained: “The rules are in place to maintain the fans’ connection/control of the clubs and maintain fairer competition between sides.”

Abuse

Red Bull Leipzig’s meteoric rise has led to opposition fans dishing out abuse. When FC Erzgebirge Aue faced Leipzig in a Bundesliga 2 game, the Aue fans compared Mateschitz to Hitler and RB fans to Nazis.

Rival supporters are now adopting other methods of signalling their dislike, and Geoff said: “The majority of protests seem to be about boycotting periods of games – with a philosophy of if you don’t engage with them and ignore them, they’ll go away.  No interest, and the corporates will move on.”

When Borussia Dortmund played away at Leipzig in September, their supporters stayed away, with one fan group arguing that they wouldn’t travel to support their team against a side that stands “against everything we associate with football”.

However, Leipzig had the last laugh as they won the game 1-0 thanks to a goal from substitute Naby Keita.

Their fans would, of course, argue that the hatred directed at their club is borne out of envy, while pointing to RBL’s impressive youth system which has seen their players representing Germany at almost every level.

The future – more ‘company clubs’?

Red Bull’s sporting investments also include New York Red Bulls in the MLS and Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, not to mention the Formula 1 team.

“I think the response to RB Leipzig being so disliked is to dissuade other companies from getting involved in clubs”

If other companies follow their lead, are we looking at a future where more football clubs have their identities remoulded by corporate ownership in order to achieve success?

Geoff said: “RBL are the first and were unopposed. If others do follow they’ll be in competition with each other and I think it’s more likely for them to struggle.”

He added: “Fans in Germany, even if not directly affected, are very intelligent and able to look further ahead to when they themselves might be affected.

“I think the response to RB Leipzig being so disliked is to dissuade other companies from getting involved in clubs.

“The 50+1 rule is there for a reason, to protect fans’ control of their clubs.  Removing that and the Bundesliga could lose its special qualities and become another EPL with ticket prices and its customers-not-supporters approach.”

Find out more about Geoff and his FC. St Pauli fanbase in Brighton.

England facing tough test in India

England’s Indian sub-continent journey continues as they focus on how to deal with Indian spin duo Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. 

After a disappointing loss to Bangladesh in the second Test match, England must regroup for the five-match Test series against India.

You can’t blame them for wanting to move on swiftly after the way in which Bangladesh claimed their first-ever Test win over the tourists in Dhaka.

Chasing a target of 273, England raced to 100-0, with victory seemingly in their sights. However, that is when the mighty collapse began as they were bowled out for 164.

Positives

There are, however, some positives to take from the series against Bangladesh. Moeen Ali took his second five-wicket Test haul as well as being England’s joint top wicket-taker with 11.

“These capitulations could well have a psychological effect on the players, making their confidence brittle in the face of India’s feared spin bowling attack”

Adil Rashid contributed with both bat and ball. Ben Duckett made his maiden Test 50, and Ben Stokes was his usual aggressive self.

England fans will be hoping these players can continue their fine form in India. Moeen and Stokes, in particular, will be vital if England are to win a series against the world’s No.1-ranked Test team.

Beating India on home territory is never easy, but England managed it in 2013, taking the Test series 2-1.

Before that, though, they hadn’t won in India since 1984-85. So will it be another rare victory or back to business as usual?

Negatives

A few players did not grasp their chance to nail down a place in the side. Gary Ballance was one of them, scoring just 24 runs in two Tests and leaving himself open to fresh doubts.

If Ballance is dropped, could teenager Haseeb Hameed come into the side and open with the skipper Alastair Cook?

“It will be up to England’s seam attack to target the Indians as they are more comfortable facing spin”

The Lancashire right-hander should be given a chance to show what he can do with the bat as well as learning from senior players such as Joe Root.

One thing is for certain: England will be desperate to avoid another batting collapse.

The writing was perhaps on the wall in the second Test after they found themselves 69 for 5 after 15 overs in the first innings, but no-one foresaw that second-innings shocker after they reached 100 without loss.

These capitulations could well have a psychological effect on the players, making their confidence brittle in the face of India’s feared spin bowling attack.

Cook had a fairly quiet series against Bangladesh, with his best score of 59 coming in the second innings of the second match. He does, however, have an impressive record in India, going back to his debut Test century in Nagpur in March 2006.

India

Jadeja (left) and Ashwin aim to send England spinning. Pic from indianexpress

So dominant are India in their home conditions, that touring teams are seldom expected to claim a series triumph.

With a run machine in captain Virat Kohli and a world-class bowling attack in Ashwin and Jadeja, they will be definite favourites against England.

India are coming off the back of a Test series win against New Zealand. Ashwin was the top wicket-taker with a mammoth 27 to his name compared to the 10 that both Trent Boult and Mitchell Santner took for the Kiwis.

With Ashwin is in red-hot form, England will look to play him correctly and not to be too aggressive as he could strike at any moment.

India’s batting line-up is another of their strengths, and the top six-seven can all contribute.

Murali Vijay was in notably good form against New Zealand, and it will be up to England’s seam attack to target the Indians as they are more comfortable facing spin.

Without James Anderson, Stuart Broad is likely to lead the line, with Stokes and Chris Woakes backing him up.

Verdict

England face a tough series against India, but if they can read the pitches well, build big partnerships, avoid batting collapses and take plenty of wickets, then they will be fine.

Ensuring they do all of those things at the same time is, however, a big ‘if’…

They need their spinners to be dominant. Rashid, Moeen and Gareth Batty must trick the Indian batsman as well as getting help from the pitches.

Garry Ballance should be given one more chance in the first Test match to try and produce a big innings, but if he doesn’t then he should make way for Hameed who is eager to make an impressive debut against the best Test nation in the world.

The first Test against India starts on November 9th in Rajkot at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium, which is hosting its first-ever Test match.

The last time England played in Rajkot was a one-day international versus India in 2013, with the visitors winning by nine runs.

They’ll be hoping that’s a good omen for the start of what promises to be a demanding Test series.

My England XI for the first Test would be: Alastair Cook (capt), Garry Ballance, Joe Root, Ben Duckett, Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow (wkt), Ben Stokes, Adil Rashid, Chris Woakes, Stuart Broad, Gareth Batty.

Fans vs Players – five footballing feuds

Football is a passionate sport but there are some supporters who will go the extra mile to show how they really feel. 

There are always times when fans are disappointed in their players due to a bad performance or poor run of form.

Or they can take issue with something a player has said. Inter Milan captain Mauro Icardi is currently feeling the wrath of his club’s ultras over his autobiography – more on that particular spat later…

Some fans may simply go onto social media to vent their frustration. However, there are others who will go to extremes.

Here, we will look at five fiery feuds between players and their own fans.

5. Bale and Jese speed off as irate fans attack their cars – 2015

Real Madrid have many great memories in beating Barcelona in the El Clásico. Some notable wins include the 5-0 mauling at the Santiago Bernabéu in January 1995, with the Madrid line-up including such big-name players as Raúl, Michael Laudrup and Luis Enrique, who of course went on to even greater success at Barcelona.

Bale (right) and Jese celebrate a goal. Pic by Mutsu Kawamori©, flickr creative commons

Fast forward to March 2015, and Real Madrid came up against the old enemy at the Nou Camp. Real Madrid went on to lose 2-1, with goals from Luis Suarez and Jeremy Mathieu sealing the win for Barcelona.

Later on that night, the Real Madrid players returned home only to face the wrath of some unhappy fans.

These fans were so furious at the players because it was the year that Barcelona won the famous treble and this match ended Real Madrid’s hopes of winning the league that year.

Gareth Bale and Jese were the unlucky ones as they were caught in the thick of things. As they were driving off, there were a group of Real Madrid fans waiting to pounce and attack. The fans punched the players’ windows and kicked their cars. A few insults were hurled too.

Real suspended one club member who was involved as well as identifying two other suspects. Bale remains an integral part of Madrid’s team, and this summer Jese moved to Paris St Germain.

The incident was captured on video… YouTube Preview Image

4. Fabrício sent off for gesturing at his own fans – 2015

There are many insults that can offend people in all sorts of ways. Some would counter with an insult of their own or even offer someone out for a fight.

But when it’s a crowd of thousands giving you stick, the latter is not really a feasible option, so you express your feelings in the way you can.

During a match in Brazil’s state championship against Yipranga in 2015, Internacional player Fabrício decided to confront a jeering crowd with some offensive gestures. This led to the referee sending off the left-back.

Fabrício was furious, and threw his shirt on the ground. Several of his team-mates tried to calm him down but he would take it even further by shouting towards his own fans “I’m leaving, I’m leaving!” as he walked off. Well at least he got to say how he was feeling at the time…

After the game, his team-mates were not allowed to give post-match interviews and the defender was suspended by the club. Despite all of this Internacional went on to win 1-0.

Fabrício is still at Internacional despite having two loan spells at fellow Brazilian clubs Cruzeiro and now at Palmeiras.

3. São Paulo fan invasion

Pitch invasions are a fairly common occurrence. A notable example would be YouTube sensation Vitaly Zdorovetskiy – also as known as Vitalyzdtv – invading the 2014 World Cup Final between Germany and Argentina.

These invaders only have one purpose, which is to have their 30 seconds of fame by running around on the pitch and doing their best to avoid capture by stewards.

In Brazil, however, São Paulo fans had other ideas – they were not just showing off, they were angry and wanted to make a point to their club.

They decided to invade a training session and attack their own players. These fans from the Barra Brava protest group staged a demo aimed at the club owners they said were corrupt and the team, who they claimed stained the club’s history.

Fireworks were set off, abuse shouted, and a near riot ensued. Michel Bastos, who plays for São Paulo, was injured during the attack as he and his team-mates were forced to flee.

The video below shows the full-on carnage. YouTube Preview Image

 2. The Carabobo flying kick-2015

Players and managers are expected give post-match interviews; these can happen on the pitch or near the tunnel.

Carabobo squared off against Aragua in the Venezuelan League in a 2015 match which ended in a 1-1 draw.

Aquiles Ocanto who plays for Carabobo, was being interviewed pitchside as a rival supporter decided to sneak up behind him and give him a vicious flying kick.

Imagine that happening to a Premier League star. Twitter would go into meltdown…

There is a video below: YouTube Preview Image

1. Icardi vs. Inter Milan Ultras 

Finally, we reach our most high-profile and recent example of when things go very wrong between players and fans.

This is the on-going battle between Inter Milan captain Mauro Icardi and the club’s most hardcore ultras.

The bitter row was kicked off by a chapter in Icardi’s autobiography where he told a story about himself and team-mate Fredy Guarín facing off against the ultras when Inter lost 3-1 away to Sassuolo in February 2015.

Icardi recently signed a new deal with Inter until 2021. Pic courtesy of Football DirectNews©, flickr creative commons.

After that game, Icardi threw his shirt to a kid into the away crowd but it was thrown back by one of the ultras. The incident was forgotten at the time until it featured in the autobiography.

“In the changing room, I was applauded like an idol,” he wrote.

The club’s directors warned him he might have upset some of the fans, but he was not backing down, going on to write: “I was clear, I’m ready to face them one by one.

“Maybe they don’t know that I grew up in one of the South American neighbourhoods with the highest rates of crime and people killed in the street.

“How many of them are there? Fifty? A hundred? Two hundred? OK, record my message and let them hear it. I will bring 100 criminals from Argentina who will kill them on the spot.”

Unsurprisingly, the ultras did not take this lying down. Earlier this season, in a match against Cagliari, Icardi missed a penalty – cue huge banners being unfurled by sections of the San Siro crowd.

The most blunt of the lot said : “You are not a man… You are not a captain… You are just a vile piece of s***”.

If Icardi updates his autobiography at any point, it will be interesting to see if he changes the offending chapter – or adds fuel to the fire by winding them up the ultras even more…

Review – Out of Contract

“You’re a product. If you are doing well, people would want to buy you.”

Sky Sports documentary Out of Contract followed five professional footballers from different levels of the game and in different stages of their careers.

According to the Professional Footballers Association, 75% of pro players who find themselves out of contract at U-21 level fall out of full-time football for good.

Out of Contract revealed the struggles that players released by their clubs go through as they search for a new one.

Michael Collins is a journeyman midfielder who you might not have come across as he plied his trade with the likes of Huddersfield, Scunthorpe an Oxford.

The former Republic of Ireland U-21 international made a bold choice when he left Oxford by mutual consent and went to play for Bengaluru FC in the Indian Premier League in order to provide for his family.

Collins, 30, won his first ever career title with Bengaluru. However since then, he has struggled to find a new club.

Contrast

Bengaluru coach Ashley Westwood said: “You can earn more here [in India] than in League Two.”

As the Indian Premier League is gaining popularity, more players in the same situation as Collins, are making that move abroad in order to earn a living, find fresh challenges and remain in the sport that they love.

Of course, football is a game of huge contrasts, and whilst millionaire superstars such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic line up their next lucrative move, lesser lights may have to consider entirely new careers.

Out of Contract highlighted the case of Bradley Pritchard who, after being released by Leyton Orient last season, decided to enter the legal profession and now has a new job as a paralegal.

The documentary brought home that these footballers are normal people just like us; often facing life-changing decisions as they battle to make the best of things for themselves and their families.

Factors

There can be a long list of factors that can jeopardise a potential transfer.

Peter Odemwingie (above, main photo) was due to move to Hull City before the 2016/17 season. The manager at the time, Steve Bruce, was a huge admirer of the player. Everything was all set until Bruce resigned and the move was off.

Odemwingie also turned down offers from across the world to focus on his family. Sometimes, it is not all about football and there are other commitments which are more important.

Success

Most of the footballers featured eventually found new clubs, but often at a lesser level and, consequently, on lower wages.

Emmanuel Sonupe, 20, was at Tottenham for 10 years before being released when his contact expired. The midfielder had trials at clubs such as QPR and Leicester before signing a one-year deal with League One Northampton Town.

Former Watford and Bolton forward Marvin Sordell found himself in the same situation as Sonupe, albeit at the age of 25.

Released by Colchester at the end of an initially promising but then injury-hit 2015-16 season, Sordell had various offers from around the world before deciding to join Coventry City on a one-year deal.

Hope

The message that came across in Out of Contract was if you continue to work hard and strive to stay in the professional game at some level, you will see success at the end of the road.

For those whose best efforts are still not enough, the PFA provides training courses and support for players who find themselves having to hang up their boots and consider other options.

Any footballer who find their career not going to plan should take some inspiration from Bradley Pritchard and his new vocation in the legal profession.

Out of Contract wove his and the stories of other players into an exceptional documentary. Whether you’re a football fan or not, their tales of overcoming adversity and battling the odds make it a must-watch programme.

Image courtesy of Sky Sports