All posts by Charlie MacKinnon

VIDEO: Interview with Paragon Gym co-founder Stuart Lawson

Charlie MacKinnon visits the Paragon Gym in Shoreditch to speak to co-founder and former world kickboxing champion Stuart Lawson.

Lawson described his own career experiences at the highest level of world kickboxing and how he came to start up the Paragon Gym in 1997.

With many fighters coming through the ranks and rising to elite levels, Elephant Sport asks are we seeing a new era of British boxing, and how is the future of the sport looking?

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To find out more about the Paragon Gym, visit their website.

Wembley dream over as Not for Me Clive go out of FA People’s Cup

For the second consecutive year, my team, Not For Me Clive FC,  participated in the FA People’s Cup at the Shoreditch Power League.

The People’s Cup is a superbly organised event run on behalf of the FA. This national five-a-side football tournament is free to enter and welcomes male, female and disabled players from under-14s to veterans.

It’s a fun but competitive environment, with all games lasting ten minutes.

The tournament starts at hundreds of 5-a-side centres across the country, with the winners from each one gradually moving through the competition to regional qualifiers, and the eventual final being played at Wembley Stadium in April.

Clive and kicking

Last year’s People’s Cup performance saw our team lose every single game, after being placed in one of the most difficult groups in the history of the competition.

When my cousin Alex created the team WhatsApp group at the beginning of the year, it was time to prepare for the Cup all over again. We couldn’t do any worse than last year… could we?

But this year was a new year, a new team, and a new team name: Not for Me Clive FC.

With the addition of my cousin Robert, previously of Southend United and recently returning from a football College in Canada, the team’s expectations of success were somewhat higher than in 2017.

Football focus: The Clive ‘keeper Harry sporting eye-catching gloves

Shoreditch sensation

After months of anticipation, we arrived at Shoreditch Power League on a freezing cold afternoon alongside hundreds of other players, kitted out in base-layers, gloves and hats, eager to get playing.

Following a sizing up of the competition, our group was announced. Our team name was the only one of any comedy value, so it became evident we were going to be playing serious teams with experience and ability.

On the back of a brief warm-up of dynamic and static stretching and a few shots at the goalkeeper, we were ready to play our first game.

“Up the Clive!” shouted Alex, our manager/captain/general day organiser, as we kicked off against a side in actual matching kits, opposed to our mish-mash of red coloured tops. ‘They must be decent,” I thought.

A tense, cagey affair, we went 1-0 up through a tidy finish from yours truly. A goal! We were winning a game! An FA People’s Cup first for our team. All we had to do was hold on.

Then came an unbelievable moment. The ball fell to me in our own half with seconds remaining. The score still 1-0, I tried my luck at a Tony Yeboah-esque thunderbolt.

The ball flew past the opposing defenders and goalkeeper into the top corner of the net. Teams from the side-line applauded the finish, and the final whistle blew. Two-nil to the Clive, and a 5-a-side career highlight for myself.

The next few games saw us draw one, lose one, and win two; keeping us in the race for top spot. Our Wembley dream was still alive.

Parking the bus

As the late-February sun set in Shoreditch, we took to the pitch for our must-win decider. It was win or bust.

Charlie in action during the first game, pre-wonder goal

I’m sure their manager had been taking notes from Jose Mourinho, and we witnessed a possible moment in history: the first team to park the bus on a 5-a-side pitch.

Almost impossible to break down and score against, the game ended in a 1-1 draw, and it was time to call it a day, at least until next year. We were proud of how we had done, it was a sure improvement on last year.

‘The ball flew past the opposing goalkeeper into the top corner’

As they say, though, every cloud has a silver lining. There was an underlying sense of relief amongst the Clive team after our elimination, with the entire side looking near frozen.

With most of the side Arsenal supporters, it was time to hit the pub, watch the Carabao Cup Final, and have a well-deserved pint.

It was only at full-time after watching the Gunners embarrass themselves against Man City, that one of the boys proudly announced: “The Clive would’ve put up more of a fight than that!”

Despite the heart-breaking exit right at the death, it was a fantastic event once again, and we will be sure to be back competing stronger than ever next year.

Lawson’s recipe for sporting success

“Nutrition is the fastest growing area, that is why more players are paying for their own care, because it’s that important,” says sports nutritionist and Uefa-qualified football coach Matt Lawson. 

Michelin-starred chef Jonny Marsh works with a number of Premier League footballers as their personal chef

With the rise of sportspeople having their own personal chefs, meal plans and specifically tailored diets, Lawson is much in demand.

“Dietetics was not something I started out in, I was mainly interested in the human body, what happens to us day to day,” he explains.

“Through biology at school I found nutrition and that led to becoming a Registered Dietitian at the University of Nottingham. It is the gold standard of diet and nutrition service.”

Patriotic pride with Team GB

In what has been an established career in football already, Lawson has worked with Team GB, Notts County’s first team, Notts County Ladies and Doncaster Rovers.

“Working with Team GB is the highlight of my career without a doubt,” he says.

“People represent their country, for me to be involved —  wow! I felt undeserving really. This is a special country and I love it deeply. Being a dietitian and helping people, being involved is what makes it worthwhile.”

‘Working with Team GB is the highlight of my career’

Lawson was also part of his boyhood club Notts County’s 22 match away-game unbeaten streak, an all-time club record, under manager Keith Curle.

“On top of that, winning Coach of the Year in 2016, for the Notts County Ladies team doing the cup and league double whilst taking my UEFA badges, it was something I was very lucky to be involved in. Really the players did it for me,” he says.

Measuring success

Following the release of his new book Recipes for Success Lawson believes sports nutrition is more important than ever.

“My book is all about working to simple recipes that we know help people in day-to-day life,” he explains. “Nutrition and the way we look at training is the main thing that drives performance.”

“The greatest change recently is the move towards technology. Now we measure urine, blood, sweat, diet, as well as weight, body fat and distance. More methods come around and we need to utilise them,” emphasises Lawson.

No more parties

Gone are the days of top-level athletes and sports people eating and drinking what they like, with Lawson claiming nutrition can be the vital factor to sporting success.

‘My book is all about working to simple recipes that we know help people, in day to day life’

“Footballers have changed, only very few get away with the party life. Most of them will get injured, football is paid well and there are sacrifices,” he states.

“Overall, I want the athlete to care about it, that is the main thing. We need to work with players to make them the best, continually improving. Nutrition impacts genetic and metabolic function, it is this that affects the very small margins between winning and losing.”

The future looks exciting for Lawson, who is aiming to expand his horizons both off the pitch in nutrition and on the pitch with coaching.

“I am developing my own football academy, nutrition consultancy and charity that can help people find a pathway into football,” he explains.

“We need more pitches for young people, especially women, and more joining the battle against diet-related ill health in our country.”

You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattLawson7 and find out more on his new book Recipes for Success on his website.

 

Jay Emmanuel-Thomas: from Arsenal highs to struggling at QPR

In 2009, Arsenal won the FA Youth Cup with an aggregate 6-2 victory over holders Liverpool, who were looking to lift the trophy for the third year running.

After that crushing victory, surely many of those young Gunners were destined for stardom?

It would appear that was not the case. Following Francis Coquelin’s transfer to Valencia last month, Jack Wilshere is now the only player from that Cup-winning side who remains an Arsenal player.

The captain of that successful side, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, scored in every round of their cup run that season, and eventually went on to make appearances for the first team in both the Premier League and Champions League.

However, after loans spells at Blackpool, Doncaster and Cardiff he left Arsenal permanently to sign for Ipswich Town in 2011.

A spell at Bristol City followed before he joined QPR in 2015, but after further loan periods at MK Dons and Gillingham, he is currently out of favour and playing the majority of his football for the under-23s.

So, with his experience of the ups and downs of football, what does the 27-year-old striker think about the English youth academy system?

The 27-year-old has been struggling for game time at QPR

Too much, too young?

“Some players do get too much too young, but it’s not their fault,” he told Elephant Sport.

“As a young kid if you get offered a big contract, you’re going to take it, it’s part and parcel of life. No-one will say that’s too much money, you will take it and there’s then a huge expectation on the player.

“It’s hard for some players depending on where they go. At the end of the day, it’s often down to not being able to turn down such a big contract, especially from the big teams.

“It’s not anyone’s fault, but the bigger the club, the more money they have to spend on players’ wages. Sometimes there is too much weight on players’ shoulders.”

Despite the recent success of England’s various age group teams, including winning the U-20 World Cup, Emmanuel-Thomas believes young players at big clubs stand less of a chance of succeeding at the highest level.

“The boys at smaller clubs will probably have a better chance of breaking into their first team, due to finances, smaller squads and so on.

“It’s all well and good someone saying a player has potential, but it’s in training where it counts, what the player is doing off the pitch, so that they have the right to play on the pitch.

‘I just want to be back playing every week, it doesn’t matter where or who for’

“It’s all a matter of timing, waiting and patience. Some people are more patient than others, some want to just go out and play. When the chance comes, you have to take it,” he said.

Having played with Wilshere at both youth and first team level, the East Londoner is  full of praise for the midfielder.

“Jack was always talented from a young age. You could see the ability he had was more advanced than the teams we were playing against.

“If Jack is at his best and fully fit he is potentially England’s best midfielder by a long stretch. It’s all down to him physically and mentally if he can get into that mindset.”

Wenger: a great mentor

Despite Wilshere being the only remaining player from the Youth Cup-winning side of 2009, the striker praised Arsenal’s youth system, and the effect of manager Arsene Wenger on his development.

“It was a great time for me as a player to be captain of a good team. We had some great players in our squad, and out of that entire team there’s only one player who’s not currently playing in the football industry at some level,” he says.

‘If Jack Wilshere is at his best and fully fit he is potentially England’s best midfielder by a long stretch’

“The youth system we had at the time was excellent. You can see from the players Arsenal have produced, and continue to produce now, the standard is incredible.

“I think Arsene Wenger evolved Arsenal as a club. He changed a lot, brought in certain styles of play, brought in players that nobody had heard of and made them into superstars.

“He’s been given these new contracts for a specific reason. As far as I’m concerned, he was a great manager to work with and to play for, and he should still be in charge.”

Moving on

Despite making his way into the first team at Arsenal, Emmanuel-Thomas believes he had to leave the club to further his career, and has no regrets in doing so.

“From our age group we had several players potentially getting a game for the first team.

“Just before I left, I was getting minutes in the first team, as were Craig Eastmond and Jack Wilshere. Coquelin was in and out. Kyle Bartley and Henri Lansbury played a few cup games.

“But it was a decision that I had to make. I could’ve stuck around at Arsenal, potentially never knowing what was going to happen. For me, I still feel like I made the right decision leaving Arsenal.”

For the man nicknamed ‘JET’, the youth team he captained at Arsenal was also triumphant in terms of players making their way into professional football.

“It was a successful team, I know players from the year above us and the year below us that are no longer playing football at all,” he says.

But what does the future now hold for JET?

“I just want to be back playing every week, it doesn’t matter where or who for. I have a family to provide for, it’s all about playing the game and providing for my family, that’s the main goal.”

You can follow Jay on Twitter @OfficialJET10

Sarah Wiltshire

Mum’s the word as Wiltshire juggles football and parenthood

The miracle of childbirth is a life-changing experience for any woman, and since having her first child, Sarah Wiltshire is loving life on and off the field.

The Tottenham Hotspur Ladies forward described how she manages to balance a life full of scoring goals alongside looking after her pride and joy.

Alexa-Rose Edwards was born in February 2017 whilst the now 26-year-old was on the books at  FA WSL side Yeovil Town Ladies before taking a break from football 13 weeks into her pregnancy.

So how has having a baby changed life for the Welsh international?

“She has been the best thing that has ever happened to me. It was of course hard finding my feet again, but she’s almost one now so I should be back to my old self soon,” she said.

“Your body goes through so many changes, and then you have a little baby to look after. It’s not always easy but it’s definitely worth it”.

A speedy comeback

Wiltshire’s rapid return to football after childbirth saw her make her first appearance for Cambridge United (on loan from Yeovil Ladies) less than seven weeks later, before returning to Yeovil in April 2017.

“She has been the best thing that’s ever happened to me” – Sarah Wiltshire

“I never really set a target for when to come back. I was lucky and had a natural birth, she was also well and healthy which set me on my way,” she explained.

“I managed to keep fit whilst pregnant. I trained lightly up until around 35 weeks, then I just walked and swam up until the due date which she was born on.”

She believes Jamie Sherwood, the Yeovil Town manager during her time at the club, was a prominent figure in her speedy comeback.

“Jamie was very supportive, he was the one who wanted me to return to Yeovil straight away to play in the top division. It was then time to think about what was best for my family and that’s when Spurs came along.”

Wiltshire’s move away from Yeovil was largely down to logistics for her family, and she is now a regular starter for the WSL2 side, who currently sit sixth in the league.

Childhood dream

A lifelong Tottenham supporter, Wiltshire jumped at the chance of pulling on the Lilywhites’ shirt. Since moving to the North London club, she hasn’t looked back, and is relishing her football more than ever.

“I’m really enjoying being at Tottenham, especially as it’s the club I’ve supported since I was a little girl. It’s only 20 minutes to get to training too, so it’s more than the right fit for me,” she said.

“I’d love to stay here until I can’t play anymore. I want to help them get to the top level and be part of the squad for as long as possible. It’s probably the best team I’ve ever played for in terms of staff and players.”

Wiltshire was one of the prominent figures in Yeovil Town Ladies’ promotion to WSL 1 last season, with her being the top scorer in WSL 2 at the time she stopped playing towards the end of the year.

Family pride

Wiltshire with her daughter Alexa-Rose

She recalled her first Mother’s Day experience last year, a special occasion where Alexa-Rose watched alongside Sarah’s mum to see her in action for Cambridge.

“I think it still hadn’t sunk in that I was a mother, it surprised me getting my own Mother’s Day card! It was great having them both there to watch,” she said.

So, what are the key changes she has had to make to her life since the arrival of Alexa-Rose?

“Alexa has pretty much changed everything for me, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I certainly don’t get as much sleep and my back hurts from carrying her, but you adapt,” she laughed.

“I have such a great amount of family support, so there are plenty of babysitters on hand for when I’m training or playing. Anything in between is mummy-daughter time”.

“If I feel down about football, she’s there to come home to. I’m never unhappy for long”

A new addition for Wiltshire is the fact she now always someone there to keep her happy for when things don’t go right on the field.

“I still have the same amount of motivation, I just love football. The only real change is if I feel down about football, she’s there to come home to. I’m never unhappy for long,” she said.

For Wiltshire, like many others, becoming a mum has added a whole new dimension to her life.

Time will tell whether her daughter inherits her love of the beautiful game, but, who knows, we may see another Wiltshire scoring goals in the future…

You can follow Sarah on Twitter @sawiltshire7 to follow her journey through football and motherhood.

Paradise lost for most inside football’s dream factory

Depression, crime, and falling out of love with the so-called beautiful game at a young age.

These were some of the issues addressed in the BT Sport documentary ‘No Hunger In Paradise’, based on the book by Michael Calvin and presented by award-winning writer himself.

Speaking to various players, managers, coaches and agents around the country, Calvin delivered a compelling glimpse into the brutal reality of English football’s academy system.

Given the riches on offer to elite players, it’s the dream of an increasing number of youngsters to become the next David Beckham, Harry Kane or Wayne Rooney.

Parents often push them to pursue this ambition, yet by the end of the documentary, it’s anyone’s guess as to why they would put their child through such a tough ordeal.

The killer statistic that only 0.012 percent of young English hopefuls become Premier League players set the tone for what was at times an uncomfortable watch.

 

Heartbreak through football

As someone who has been on the end of several setbacks in football at youth level, a real empathy and connection was felt with these players. Most prominently the story of former West Ham under-21 captain Kieran Bywater.

Despite captaining the side as a promising talent, he was released by the Hammers and recalled his experience of breaking down in tears on the pitch during a trial game, where he walked off the pitch.

His father emotionally told Calvin how his son’s “world came crashing down around him” during the trial.

Despite now enjoying his football at Charleston University in the USA, his story hit home and showed there is no contingency plan for failure for most of these boys.

Once you are chewed up, spat out and released, you are thrown into a world of unknowns, often with very few options.

Of course, players do make it through the system and into Premier League sides. Clubs and media alike then glorify these rare academy triumphs.

But the reality is, with the amount of truly talented footballers wasted, the odd success story makes for only a small drop in an ocean of failures.

The success of England’s young champions at U17, U20 and U21 level were lauded by some of the documentary’s interviewees, but how many of those players will end up plying their trade at the highest level?

A new age?

So, is the academy system becoming obsolete?

We are seeing more and more English clubs overlook the prospects in their academies, just to bring in a ready-made players likely of a proven ability, for a large sum of money.

Huddersfield Town and Brentford are two clubs that have disbanded their academies in recent years. Despite criticism for their decisions, can they be blamed for doing so?

‘Once you are chewed up, spat out and released, you are thrown into a world of unknowns with often very few options’

If anything, these two clubs are facing up to the reality of today’s game.

Calvin spoke to Brentford’s co-director of football Phil Giles, who said the club recognised that most of their academy players will not go on to play for the first team.

His logic was that it was a waste of money to string along hundreds of hopefuls, when in reality they knew that their eventual fate would not lie at the club.

Calvin spoke of how the Premier League are committed to investing £800m into youth football development by 2020.

Money, money, money

Money, as is in life, has become the main focus of Premier League clubs. Who cares if Man City have invested millions in their academy? As the documentary showed, it is simply providing most of these boys with false hope.

‘The sad truth is that the clubs are viewing players as commodities and assets, rather than human beings’

Calvin’s interview with Joey Barton spoke volumes on the attitude of the players at academies: once again, money is not the solution, it is in fact the problem.

The former Premier League midfielder spoke of his desire for clubs to introduce a wage cap for young players.

The phrase “stuck in the machine” was an expert description from Barton of the number of players in the English academy system who aren’t getting a chance.

“The players are scared to go down and play in the lower divisions,” claimed Barton, voicing his disapproval of the stockpiling of talent that prevents player development.

The sad truth is that the clubs are viewing players as commodities and assets, rather than human beings. Therefore, the focus of the players isn’t right, the ‘hunger’ of academy players on tens of thousands of pounds a week is simply not there.

Cut-throat system

A key figure in the documentary was Zac Brunt, a once highly sought-after young talent who had played at both Manchester City’s and Manchester United’s academies.

Brunt had been at five professional clubs before the age of 15, supplying him as Calvin said, with the CV of someone at least twice his age.

Michael Calvin interviews Arsene Wenger
Michael Calvin interviews Arsene Wenger

It did not come as a surprise when it was revealed that he was now playing in the seventh tier of English football at Matlock Town, aged 16.

Brunt, however shocking his case may seem, is just one of thousands of boys who have been given too much, too young.

A sense of pride was felt when his father revealed that Brunt is playing at a lower level of football now because he enjoys it.

He doesn’t want to be associated with the cut-throat English football system despite interest from professional clubs.

Calvin, who narrated the documentary perfectly, closed his narrative with one simple but wonderful statement: protect the innocent.

I couldn’t think of anything more appropriately put than that. The clubs and governing bodies alike need to take a long, hard look at themselves.

One can only hope they watched ‘No Hunger in Paradise’ and that the message hits home.

Image is everything? The growing problem of steroid abuse

Steroid abuse in gyms around the United Kingdom is at an all-time high, according to personal trainer George Trott.

The 20-year-old began his journey in the fitness industry at the age of 16, eventually becoming a personal trainer at AbSalute Gym in Brentwood, Essex.

Since the rise of reality TV shows such as Geordie Shore and The Only Way is Essex (from which a number of the cast train at AbSalute),  the obsession with fitness and individuals looking to emulate ‘ripped’ body types has risen dramatically.

Unfortunately, with an increase in people training comes an increase in people doing whatever it takes to look their best.

‘Roids on the rise

The official crime survey of England & Wales by the Office for National Statistics indicates that over 60,000 men in the UK are using steroids.

Possible side effects of steroid abuse include severe mood swings, depression, acne, paranoia and impaired judgement, just to name a few.

‘These young people are playing about with their body chemistry just for an image’ – George Trott

“Steroids are a massive problem in the fitness industry at the moment, and 90 percent of people doing them don’t actually know the effects they have on the human body,” explained Trott, who has been a qualified personal trainer for over at AbSalute for over a year.

“Bodybuilders inject testosterone as this is meant to help promote muscle growth, bone strength and develop muscle tissue. What they don’t realise is that it shuts down your body’s natural way to produce testosterone after you stop taking this supplement.

“For the 10 percent of people that know how to take these, they would know they have to do a PCT (post cycle therapy) which means they have to take another supplement that promotes their body’s natural testosterone, so they start producing this naturally again,” he said.

“I’ve had 16-year-olds asking me about steroids which shows there is a real problem. These young people are playing about with their body chemistry just for an image.”

Crackdown

Even more worryingly, UK Border Force figures in 2016-17 showed a 35 percent spike in seizures of steroids across the country.

But why are more and more people turning to steroids?

In the UK, they are a class C drug, meaning it is not illegal to possess them for personal use, but it is illegal to sell them.

According to Trott, there needs to be a crackdown on steroids and a higher drug reclassification for there to be a decrease in users.

“I’m sure if they were a class A, they would not be so easy to get hold of and not as many people would be on them,” he said.

“I know teenagers that actually sell steroids and I’ve asked them why they sell them. They’ve said because the risk is minimal as they are class C and they can make a lot of money out of it.

“The country has never been so into its fitness, and this means more than ever we are seeing people on steroids. People are thinking that they’ll automatically look good when it doesn’t work like that and they are just damaging their health.”

So, are we seeing a new generation of males that are more concerned about the image they project both in person and via social media? Is there more pressure on men to get their bodies to a certain standard?

Growing pressure on the male image?

“Men naturally tend to have more of an ego than women, and I think this is a problem – men are always trying to compete with each other to see who’s bigger, who looks better,” Trott, 20, claimed.

“Who’s stronger and who can lift more is what men concern themselves about. I fully believe this is why more people are turning to steroids, because of the competition they face.”

The world fitness industry is constantly growing, and for many people, training becomes an addiction.

‘I have been asked by clients about taking steroids and what ones to take, but I have advised against it each time’ – George Trott

“I have seen cases of the gym becoming an obsession for people, and I’ve actually seen this obsession ruin marriages it’s got that far. What people need to understand is that gym is a lifestyle,” he explained.

Walking hand-in-hand with reality TV stars comes social media. Millions of people use apps such as Instagram to engage with various parts of the fitness world, ranging from diet, to gym clothing, to training routines.

Trott believes social media is the biggest factor as to why a pressure on image has been created for men.

“Social media is something we use every day, so men are seeing an unrealistic standard every day. You have a lot of people that edit their photos to make them look better than they really are. Again men are going to look at this and try to achieve that,” he said.

“Unfortunately, I know trainers that advise their clients to get on steroids as they get great results in a short space of time, so it looks really good on the trainer, but there is little thought for the client’s health which is put at risk.

“I have been asked by clients about taking steroids and what ones to take, but I have advised against it each time and thankfully none of my clients have gone down that route. I think every personal trainer should take note of that.”

The future Of UK training

With the number of Brits that are going down the steroid route, what does Trott think the future holds for the UK fitness industry?

“I feel that the future of training is only going to expand, with more and more people getting in good shape, and it’s going to make people follow which is not a bad thing. Unfortunately, steroids are now seen as an inevitability.

“As for myself, I would like to start working with professional athletes and help them achieving their goals. To do this I would have to go and take a strength and conditioning course which would allow me to work with the top athletes.”

You can follow George on Twitter and Instagram @ghttraining to see some of his workouts. To get in touch with the up and coming personal trainer email ghttraining@gmail.com for any personal training enquiries such as training and diet plans.

Rangers v Aberdeen

The Bears vs The Dons – Rangers’ other arch rivals

It might just be the biggest rivalry in British football that you’ve never heard of, but the enmity between Rangers and Aberdeen is fierce.

Of course, we’re all familiar with the Rangers-Celtic Old Firm hostilities, anchored in sectarian, political and social divides going back centuries – but that’s a Glasgow thing.

So what makes two clubs 145 miles apart develop a passionate hatred for each other (at least among their supporters)?

On a cold night at Ibrox recently, I witnessed the latest chapter in a Rangers-Aberdeen rivalry that stretches back to the 1980s and shows no signs of letting up.

The hosts won 3-0, with Dons midfielder Ryan Christie sent off in the 84th minute. He’s currently on loan from Celtic…

Chorus of boos

A few days later, the fixture was reversed, but Rangers ran out 2-1 winners at Pittodrie. This times Ryan Jack got his marching orders for the visitors.

Maybe he was trying a little too hard against the club he used to captain, having joined the ‘Gers in the summer for no fee after his contract expired.

In the match at Ibrox, the Scotland international was clearly not worried about upsetting his old fans, pointing to the Rangers badge on his shirt whilst celebrating his side’s third goal of the night.

When they met again, he received a straight red card for a challenge on Stevie May and left the pitch to a chorus of boos from the home support that once idolised him.

Both matches were feisty affairs, played out against a backdrop of Rangers’ ongoing interest in recruiting Dons manager (and Ibrox old boy) Derek McInnes.

Ex-Dons Captain Ryan Jack is now a fan favourite at Ibrox

A recent history of hatred

That unwelcome advance (in the eyes of the Dons hierarchy) is fully in keeping with Scottish football’s other big feud. But how did it originate?

The legendary Sir Alex Ferguson brought an era of great success to Aberdeen in the 1980s, with Rangers and Celtic no longer the trophy-winning duopoly of old.

Sir Alex guided the Granite City outfit to 17 wins and only four defeats against the Ibrox side during his eight-year tenure.

The rivalry grew after Ferguson’s departure. When the sides met during a league match at Pittodrie in 1988, Aberdeen’s Neil Simpson broke the leg of Rangers’ Ian Durrant, effectively ending his career.

This incident remains the key aspect of the rivalry, with Dons supporters still mocking their rivals with sick chants of ‘Who’s that lying at Pittodrie? Who’s that lying on the floor?’

It’s always a prominent number in the Aberdeen songbook when the two teams meet and it gets the Bears’ blood boiling.

Bad blood

The rivalry is unique as the sides are not close geographically. Aberdeen to Dundee is just 66 miles down the A90, but Dundee has two teams and therefore its own derby.

Anyway, the kind of bad blood that exists between the Dons and Rangers goes beyond a simple factor such as proximity.

‘If McInnes is lured away east coast to the West End of Glasgow, the bitter rivalry between the two teams is bound to take a further toxic turn’

Witness, the 2002 clash between the pair at Pittodrie, when the game was stopped for 20 minutes and was almost abandoned after the home side’s Robbie Winter was struck by a coin thrown by the away fans.

The incident led to both sets of supporters invading the pitch and fighting, with riot police having to enter the field of play to bring them under control.

Aberdeen view Rangers as their biggest rivals, partly because of these heated matches in the past, but also because they don’t technically have a local rival.

Their fans have revelled in the Gers financial woes in recent years, which saw them relegated to the Scottish third tier and have to claw their way back to the top flight.

But they’re back now, and will Dons boss McInnes be tempted to follow Jack and head for Ibrox soon?

Aberdeen recently rejected a formal approach from Rangers, but McInnes is reported to be interested in taking charge at his old club.

If he is lured away from the east coast to the West End of Glasgow, the bitter rivalry between the two teams is bound to take a further toxic turn.

Essex boy Gennings is California dreaming of pro golf career

Since ‘crossing the pond’ from England to the United States in the summer, George Gennings has gone from strength to strength as he aims to become a professional golfer.

College sport is taken extremely seriously in the US, with many players on the PGA Tour taking the college golf path, including England’s former world number one and four-time Ryder Cup winner Luke Donald, who studied at Northwestern University in Chicago.

“I think it gives you a platform to build from, and gives you an experience of what playing on tour would be like” said the Essex-born Gennings.

“I am currently studying at Reedley College in California, which is about 30 minutes south of Fresno, the nearest major city, and half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles,” he said.

“I’m planning on doing my four years out in the US, and hoping to graduate with either a degree in either Business or Economics.”

A future star?

Gennings in competition at Bishops Stortford Golf Club whilst back in the UK.

Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed are just a few high-profile names that have taken the college and university route into professional golf, and Gennings is well on his way to following in their footsteps.

“If you go down say the Top 100 in the world rankings, I would guess that at least 60% of them played college golf,” said the 19-year-old.

“I am practicing every day with the team, but we don’t play any tournaments during the fall season due to CCCAA (California Community College Athletic Association) rules that only allow us to compete during the spring semester.

“I’ve played eight competitive rounds within the team as our coach runs an off-season schedule, where we play the courses that we’re going to be playing in our conference, and my current scoring average is 71.2 so I’m really pleased with that,” he said.

Culture shift

Gennings, who was the Youth Captain at Thorndon Park Golf Club whilst living in Essex, admits that the move from Brentwood to California and being separated from loved ones was a major challenge.

“The culture is very different to what I’ve grown up with, and even though I’ve been here for over four months, I’m still learning and adapting,” explained the Englishman.

“Missing home has without a doubt been the hardest thing. It’s such a tough experience being away from them, I honestly can’t describe how much I’ve missed being away from them”.

“If you go down say the Top 100 in the world rankings, I would guess that at least 60% of them played college golf” – George Gennings

British golf courses are renowned for their unpredictable conditions, whether that be due to erratic weather or difficult-to-read greens and fairways. So how has he adapted to the American course layout?

“It’s just a completely different style to back in England. That’s been the toughest thing to adapt to,” he admitted.

“I would describe it over here as target golf. There’s not as much wind so you haven’t got to worry about the ball moving in the air, no rain or cold so the ball is going to go further, and all the greens are pretty soft, so the ball isn’t going to go very far once it gets on the green. I’m slowly getting there!

“Everyone can go online and see how you’ve done, so there’s nowhere to hide”

“I feel playing out here is going to help me achieve my goal of making it pro as one week I might have a tournament in Arizona, then the next in Carolina, and that is very similar to what guys on the PGA tour face now, traveling from event to event and having to be away from family for prolonged periods of time” he said.

“You’re playing at top quality golf courses against some of the best university teams, so it will allow me to compare my abilities on the toughest stage. Everyone can go online and see how you’ve done, so there’s nowhere to hide.”

Next steps?

So, what is the process now for the 19-year-old?

“It’s mainly general studies at college at the moment. This year is more of a transition between college and university.

“I will be transferring to university next year, where I will do my major in my Junior and Senior (third and fourth) years. I’m hoping to get some funding from wherever I go and start playing in regular tournaments,” he said.

“The ultimate goal is to play professional golf, whether that is out in America, in Europe, or the Middle East. I’ll come back to England after I’ve completed my four years, sit down with my family and coach to evaluate everything, and if we both feel that I can make a living out of it then I’ll give it my best shot!”

You can follow George on Twitter @GGennings

Charlton’s LGBT-friendly link-up aims to tackle homophobia

After years of campaigning against racism in the game, football is turning its attention to tackling homophobia.

One of the clubs at the forefront of the battle is Charlton Athletic, who became the first professional football club in the country to have an official partnership with a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) friendly side in August 2017.

According to CACT Invicta FC player-manager Gary Ginnaw, the alliance is helping to fight football’s homophobia problem.

Previously named Bexley Invicta FC, the initial partnership with the Addicks was established thanks to the Charlton Athletic Community Trust (CACT) and Charlton Athletic Race Equality Partnership (CARE).

Charlton have a huge heritage of fan action and community-based projects, so it is not surprising that the club were the first to announce a partnership of this kind.

Community

Ginnaw, a life-long Charlton supporter, explained that training and playing at the club’s training ground is one of the benefits Invicta have gained.

“We train every Tuesday night alongside the Charlton Deaf Team and Charlton’s women’s teams. On the pitch before us are the academy teams. There is a real community aspect,” he said.

Despite being an LGBT-friendly side, players are not required to be LGBT to play for the club. Invicta have competed in the London Unity League since 2012.

‘It’s about everyone being equal and supporting each other’ – Gary Ginnaw

“I didn’t want the re-branding to CAFC Invicta FC  to deter from the football. We worked hard in pre-season and consequently have had our joint-best league start in six years,” explained the 34-year-old.

“CACT have also provided us with some structured sessions with one of their qualified football coaches.”

Ginnaw, who is also the vice-chair of Charlton’s LGBT fan group The Proud Valiants, said some of the fixtures dedicated to tackling discrimination have been organised through CACT’s support of the club.

“We have the annual Football v Homophobia-dedicated CAFC game at The Valley in February which we will be part of alongside CACT and Proud Valiants. In conjunction with this, there is the end of season CAFC v Homophobia football tournament. To play at The Valley is a huge honour.”

New beginnings

Ginnaw took over as manager of Bexley Invicta in 2015, with the club short of money and several players leaving. He explained the turning point which effectively led to his idea of speaking to the south east London club.

“We needed something to rejuvenate the club. I had contacts at CACT and arranged a meeting at the training ground,” he recalled.

“I used my knowledge and loyal support of the club over the previous 20 years to demonstrate how passionate I am, and show that with their support we could make a team to challenge for and win trophies, whilst also making a difference to people. 

“It was slow to start with but eventually things progressed to where we are today.”

So will other professional clubs follow Charlton’s example?

First of many?

“I’d be shocked if other teams didn’t follow suit,” Ginnaw said. “I would like to see every professional football club launch their own LGBT-inclusive team much like the way the women’s game has expanded.

“We are raising awareness in the mainstream media. The response hasn’t always been positive, but at least it’s a headline in the news and causing debate amongst football fans. That has to be good rather than ignoring the issue.”

‘The governing bodies need to adopt a similar approach to the racism campaign. They need to raise awareness of the routes to report homophobic abuse’

He also feels more should be done by football’s governing bodies in the fight against discrimination.

“It starts from the top. The racism in football campaigns would not have been successful without the full support of the governing bodies.

“In England, we need the Premier League, EFL and FA to be 100% behind stamping out homophobia in football – from the pitch to the terraces.”

So what does Ginnaw feel needs to be done to banish incidents of discrimination in the game?

“The governing bodies need to adopt a similar approach to the racism campaign.

“They need to raise awareness of the routes to report homophobic abuse – to educate stewards and, when an instance of abuse is reported, deal with it in such a way that it is deemed a major issue and if need be implement a ban to football grounds.

“If we can all be inclusive, then eventually LGBT-friendly teams and leagues will no longer be required. It’s about everyone being equal and supporting each other.”

You can follow Charlton Invicta Football Club and Gary on Twitter @CharltonInvicta and @GRGin1983