All posts by Joe Citrone

Ollie Hynd MBE: I was really close to quitting swimming

The golds, the glory, the honours – Paralympic swimming champion Ollie Hynd has done it all. But it took a ‘light bulb’ moment whilst watching older brother Sam race in Beijing in 2008 to set him on the path to success.

“Sam also used to compete and he went to the Beijing Games. My parents took me to China to support him,” says the 25-year-old. “At the time I was quite reluctant and didn’t really want to go as I wasn’t very interested.

“But as soon as I got there, I was really inspired by the whole thing. I’d seen how much work that Sam had put into his swimming and his dedication. That inspired me to try and make London 2012. That was the first moment where I thought ‘I want to give this a real good go’.”

It wasn’t going to be easy, though. The swimming star was dealt a tough start to life. Just like his brother, he was diagnosed with neuromuscular myopathy at the age of 12; a condition that affects his whole body.

Hynd explains: “It’s more distally than proximally, so my hands are worse than my shoulders and my feet and knees are a little bit worse than my hips.

“With day-to-day stuff, walking is the big one. There’s a struggle with the stairs, writing and opening things. Little things like that affect my day-to-day life. Obviously, that translates into the pool and my impairments in the pool as well.”

Hynd first entered the swimming pool as a youngster when his parents encouraged him to be more water-safe – and it wasn’t long before he picked up a passion for the sport. He joined Sutton Swimming Club aged eight, then moved to the Nova Venturian Swimming Squad after that trip to Beijing made him start to believe that a bright future in the sport was possible.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Gold rush

Hynd’s hard work and dedication paid off. Not only did he qualify for the 2012 Paralympics in London, he took a gold medal home in the 200m individual medley as well – an experience that he will never forget.

“London 2012 as a whole experience was absolutely incredible. For any athlete wanting to compete at the highest level, competing at a home games is amazing.” says the Mansfield-born athlete.

“For me to not only be able to compete but to win a gold was an absolute dream. The only regret I have from London 2012 is that, because I was so young at 17, I didn’t really appreciate exactly what it was or the magnitude of what I was taking part in.

“For instance, I didn’t really take any photos at all whilst I was there which is kind of crazy. But it was a great experience and something that I will never forget and feel very really lucky to have been a part of.”

After being awarded an MBE for services to swimming a year later – an experience he describes “crazy” – Hynd turned his focus to bettering his achievements in London at the Rio Paralympics in 2016.

“As much as London was great, the four years from London to Rio was really special. The training group that we had and all the competitions we had in between, it was just a really special time in my life and career.

“It was tipped off with Rio 2016 as the pinnacle of four years and even longer of really hard and very obsessive work for that one, sole goal.

“What made it more special was the negative stuff [about Brazil’s preparations] going into the games. We didn’t really know how it was going to go or what it was going to be like. But we got there and the village was fantastic, the people were great, the venue was great, food was great, transport was great.”

Hynd took gold in his opening event, the 400m freestyle, smashing the world record in the final. He then repeated the feat in his closing competition, winning and setting a new world record in the 200m individual medley.

He was riding on the crest of a wave. Everything that he touched was literally turning to gold. But he was soon dealt a blow out of the blue that left the triple gold medalist questioning his future in the sport.

Re-classified

In March 2018, the swimming star received news that as part of new IPC rules, he would be moved from the S8 classification that he’d competed in for his whole career, up to the S9 category. It was a major blow.

“It was pretty devastating,” says Hynd. “It was just a really difficult time and I didn’t really understand it or have the answers for it.

“You’re swimming against people with less of an impairment, I guess. If you were comparing it to fighting, it would be like moving up a weight class.

“It was really difficult because I’d been obsessed with my craft, and everything has got to be focused around it, so when that all happened, my identity was so wrapped up in me as a swimmer. But when that rug was pulled from beneath me, everything went.”

Hynd admits that the experience took its toll on his mental health, too: “It was really challenging and I’m not ashamed to admit it led to some mental health issues as well. It was a challenging year.”

Fellow para-athletes Matt Wylie, Jonathan Fox and Josef Craig retired from their respective sports after also having their classifications controversially changed but Hynd, after much consideration, decided to stick with it.

He says: “I came really, really close [to retiring]. What made it more complicated is that we appealed the decision and that dragged on for a few months afterwards. Until the final decision was made, it was ongoing. But in the summer of 2018, I was really close to calling it a day and saying ‘that’s it, I’m done with the sport’. Really, really close.

“But I didn’t make that decision and a year down the line, I’m happy that I continued. It’s just given me a bit more perspective I think – not just in swimming, but in life in general. There’s so much more to the sport and to life than just the gold medals”

The future

Hynd’s focus is now firmly on qualifying for the Tokyo Paralympics, with the all-important trials taking place in April. Despite fears that the coronavirus outbreak might delay or even lead to the cancellation of the Games, the three-time champion only has one thing on his mind.

“You’ve just got to trust the powers that be to make the right decision [about the Games going ahead]. The health and well-being of athletes is the most important thing, so I’m sure that they’ll make the right decision.

“I’m just giving 100% in my training and focusing on Tokyo. I’ve also already been selected for the European Championships in May. So, again, that’s just the focus again in my training, making sure I’m ready for those as well.”

Beyond that, Hynd is still undecided about what his future entails. He’s dipped his toe in the water of motivational speaking but maintains that, in an ideal world, he’d still like to remain in swimming in some capacity.

“I still think I’ll be involved in the sport in some regard whatever happens,” he says.

“I’m just passing on that message and hopefully inspiring people to make positive changes in their life. Whether that be in sport or anything else, it’s something that I’m really passionate about so that’s definitely that’s going to be in my future.”

Wilder-Fury 2: Five questions that the ‘Gypsy King’ needs to answer

The time is almost upon us. The long-awaited rematch between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury is nearly here, just over 16 months since their dramatic and controversial draw in Los Angeles.

Many felt that Fury came out on top in the first bout at the Staples Center, some even labelling the decision of a draw as a ‘robbery’.

You would imagine that then Fury is coming in as the clear favourite for the second fight, but some of the confidence in ‘The Gypsy King’ has waned among fight fans since that controversial draw in December 2018.

There are big question marks over whether Fury’s preparations for this fight have really given him with the tools to dismantle Wilder at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on 22nd February.

Here are five questions that the Mancunian needs to answer on fight night:

Has he improved since the first fight?

Fury has had two fights since that dramatic night in LA, producing wins against the previously unbeaten Tom Schwarz and Otto Wallin. Despite both ending in victory, they were two very different nights for Fury.

As expected, the 31-year-old dealt with the lesser-known Schwarz in two short rounds which, at the time, suggested he may be packing more a punch and quashing suggestions that he lacks power. However, his encounter with Wallin at the T-Mobile Arena last September didn’t quite go to plan.

What was expected to be another routine win turned into a bloody, 12-round war that left the Brit with a nasty-looking cut above the right eye. Although it definitely wasn’t a performance that would fill anyone with added confidence about Fury’s prospects against Wilder, there is not a massive amount that you can read into it.

Fury is someone that has risen to the occasion in the past. He produced two sub-par performances against Sefer Seferi and Franceso Pianneta in the lead-up to the first Wilder fight, but still managed to conjure up an excellent performance against the WBC heavyweight champion.

Fury also took on Wilder just two fights into his comeback from a near three-year lay-off and he’ll be hoping to be fitter and sharper for the rematch than he was for their first bout. It will be interesting to see if getting 14 more rounds under his belt enables Fury to show improved stamina in the later rounds; the lack of which ultimately proved to be his downfall in the first contest.

Has he been focused enough on boxing?

Since the clip of him remarkably rising from canvas after Wilder’s brutal 12th-round knockdown in their first fight went viral across the world, it’s safe to say that Fury has made the most of his new-found global fame. He’s brought out an autobiography, released a Christmas single with Robbie Williams and fought Braun Strowman in the WWE, which have all raised his profile [and boosted his bank balance), but equally raised questions over his commitment to boxing.

The lineal champion has always come across as someone who lives and breathes fighting but, due to the other commitments he’s taken on, has he left enough time to sharpen his skill-set in the gym ahead of this huge second fight against the 34-year-old from Alabama?

We recently saw Andy Ruiz Jr become distracted by the glitz, glamour and fame of reaching the summit of the heavyweight division after upsetting Anthony Joshua at Madison Square Garden last June – and how that then ultimately cost him in their December rematch.

You simply can’t afford to take your eye off the ball for a second in boxing, especially against fighters at the top end of the heavyweight division.

Is it possible that Fury has fallen into the same trap as Ruiz?

Is changing trainers a good idea?

Former coach Ben Davison played a huge part in pulling Fury back from the brink of disaster after his mental breakdown led him to the cusp of suicide and stepping on the scales at a whopping 385lbs. He also masterminded the game plan that so nearly got Fury the win against Wilder which would have put him back on top in the heavyweight division.

However, following an on-screen lambasting from Fury’s father John, Davison was ditched and has now been replaced by American Javan ‘Sugar Hill’ Steward, nephew of famous trainer Emmanuel Steward.

The lineal champion isn’t unfamiliar with Steward, having spent a month training with him in the famous Kronk gym in Detroit a decade ago. Andy Lee, Fury’s cousin and a former world middleweight champion who has spent time at Kronk, has also been involved in the camp although it’s not been obvious exactly what capacity that’s been in.

It’s undoubtedly a gamble to switch trainers so near to a big fight, especially when you consider how well Davison’s plan worked in the first Wilder bout and how radically different Steward’s coaching philosophies are to Davison’s. In an interview with iFL TV, Steward said: “He doesn’t want that again [going to the judges]. I wasn’t raised that way. Emanuel [Steward] always taught me ‘Get the knockout.’.”

The change in approach, coupled with the limited time Fury has had to work with his new trainer, will surely have added disruption to his preparations. After coming so close to a victory last time, did Fury really need to change his approach so drastically?

Is he really going to go for the knockout?

Although Fury is recognised as one of the best heavyweights in the world right now, he’s never really been known for the power in his punch. The best victories of his career have gone the distance rather than ended in vicious knockouts, much in contrast of his next opponent. In fact, only around 66% of his wins have come via KOs whereas Wilder has stopped 95% of his opponents, with every single one touching the canvas.

Despite this, Fury has been adamant in the build-up that he wants, not only to beat Wilder, but to knock him out as well. He’s even rumoured to be coming in much heavier than the first fight in an attempt to add more power to his arsenal.

As we know, many of Fury’s comments have to be taken with a rather large pinch of salt, but his decision to change up his camp suggests there may be some legitimacy to these claims. The risk is that the extra weight means he loses some of the movement that makes him so elusive and hard to hit and becomes a sitting duck for Wilder’s famous, straight right.

Will the cut above his eye come back to haunt him?

As mentioned, Fury picked up a hideous cut above his right eye that required 50 stitches after his last fight against Wallin. Without a massive amount of healing time having passed, the likelihood is that Wilder will target it and attempt to re-open it. The appointment of Jacob ‘Stitch’ Duran – one of the best and most well-known cutman in the game – suggests that there is still some nervousness in the Fury camp regarding the wound.

There’s no way of knowing how problematic this will be until fight night. There’s no word on if Fury has had any plastic surgery to speed up the healing process, but you would imagine everything has been done in order to patch it up and make sure that it doesn’t come back to haunt him.

It’s unquestionable, however, that Wilder will be targeting this. In fact, he only recently said that he is ‘looking forward to re-cutting’ Fury’s right eye. It certainly adds an extra dimension to the big night and something to monitor as the fight progresses.

YouTube boxing – genius or embarrassing?

Former WBA super-middleweight champion George Groves recently blasted the phenomenon of YouTubers infiltrating professional boxing as ‘horrific’ and ‘abysmal’.

He delivered his verdict following American vlogger Jake Paul’s win over FIFA YouTuber AnEsonGib on a Miami show headlined by middleweight world champion Demetrius Andrade. But is it really that bad?

What began as a light-hearted video between two friends has rapidly evolved into one of the biggest – and also the most divisive – invasions of a sport in recent times.

It’s safe to say that the traditional, hard-core boxing fanbase aren’t exactly welcoming this YouTube invasion with open arms, though. Many say that it is embarrassing the sport and stealing the limelight away from professional fighters who have spent years working their way up the ranks.

But, whether people like it or not, the demand appears to be there amongst the younger audience. According to Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn, the fight between Logan Paul and KSI last year sold more pay-per-views than Anthony Joshua’s huge heavyweight rematch with Andy Ruiz Jr.

How did it start?

When Joe Weller – a YouTube star from Brighton – uploaded a video of a boxing match with his friend Theo Baker in August 2017, no one could have possibly anticipated that it would be the catalyst for the whole landscape of the sport to change. And yet here we are.

Olajide Olatunji – better known by his online alias of ‘KSI’ – challenged the winner of Weller and Baker’s bout to a fight, perhaps not initially realising at the time how big it would become.

His fight with Weller ended up selling out the Copper Box Arena in London and clocked over 23 million views on YouTube. This, inevitably, prompted another fight between two internet stars; this time between KSI and Logan Paul.

This took things to a whole new level. Their first fight sold out the Manchester Arena and generated over 1.3 million pay-per-view buys worldwide. The rematch was made into a fully-fledged professional fight, picked up by streaming service DAZN and promoted by Eddie Hearn.

It’s been quite the journey and there doesn’t appear to be any sign of this train slowing down anytime soon.

What’s the problem, then?

The most recent fight between two YouTubers: Jake Paul – brother of Logan – and AnEsonGib – ‘Gib’ for short – was hardly the sweet science. And that’s being polite.

The Saudi Arabian-born Gib used a bizarre stance in the early exchanges of the fight in an attempt to crouch out of the way of a barrage of wild, flailing punches from Paul. However, his evident lack of defence and general boxing ability meant that he struggled to keep his balance and was an easy target for the American to just pick off.

After Gib touched down on the canvas three times in quick succession, the referee decided that he’d seen enough of the farce that was unfolding in front of him and declared Paul the winner by technical knockout in the first round.

KSI stormed the ring after the fight for a face-to-face confrontation with Paul. We can all see where this one is going, can’t we?

‘There’s a time and a place for ‘celebrity fights’ – but that place is not in the world of professional boxing’

These events have undoubtedly attracted fresh eyes on the sport – but at what cost? Is it worth putting on such farcical, comical shows just to get a few more people watching? And, realistically, how many of those new fans are going to stick around for the ‘proper’ fights?

This could be a slippery slope for boxing. Singer Robbie Williams has already called out former rival Liam Gallagher for a fight, and pop sensation Justin Bieber has expressed an interest in fighting KSI. The old cliche is that ‘you don’t play boxing’ and yet a lot of celebrities seem pretty keen to do just that and, perhaps more worryingly, there are also people out there who are capable of making it happen.

If this is what it is going to take to bring the sport into the mainstream, I’d rather we left it as it is.

There seems to be a certain level of naivety from these online stars as well. They strut around like they are Conor McGregor at press conferences but when the head guards come off and the 10oz gloves go on, it is no longer a game.

It’s not a YouTube video that you can just re-film if you make a mistake, it’s a proper fight. And in proper fights, people who don’t know what they’re doing can get hurt. This isn’t a charity football match where celebrities can just join in for a laugh, this is the professional fight business, where one well-timed punch can render an opponent unconscious and in need of urgent medical attention.

Less than six months ago, a promising young fighter in Patrick Day lost his life. In a chapter of the sport where safety is a topic that should be more prominent than ever before, it seems an odd time to start the trend of catapulting novices into the brutal world of pro boxing.

So far, it’s been YouTubers matched against other YouTubers. But who’s to say one of them might not get a couple of wins under their belt, start to believe their own hype and chase after fights against more seasoned pros? It could easily become more than something to poke fun at. It could start to become really dangerous.

Tommy Fury, the younger half-brother of Tyson, who is decent professional plus a Love Island celebrity, appeared to call out KSI in November, saying: “I’ve heard he wants to continue fighting so if he wants a real fight, he knows where I am.

“We are both from that influencing world — he is from YouTube, I am from Love Island. We both have a great following here in the UK. Why not make it a ‘Battle of Britain’?”

At the end of the day, there’s money to be made and that doesn’t even necessarily need to be a bad thing. Although it’s not great to watch, there’s clearly a market for this sort of stuff and it would be foolish to ignore it completely. And if these guys genuinely want to box and they’re willing to put the hard graft in, they should be able to.

It was easier to stomach, though, when it felt like a bit of fun. A fake rivalry, a bit of trash talk, nothing dangerous, nothing serious. It didn’t need to go any further than that.

There’s a time and a place for ‘celebrity fights’ – but that place is not in the world of professional boxing.

Featured image via: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H65ZxeDAysg

Chesterfield FC – a club that can’t stop the slide

In football, you’re always told to savour the moment when things are going well as you never know when you’re going to get it as good again.

Chesterfield fans were probably told that after reaching the League One play-offs in 2015. Hopefully, some took that advice – because it could be a while before they re-scale those heights.

Not even the most pessimistic of Spireites fan could have anticipated the four years that followed their team’s triumphant march to the play-offs.

Since that superb 2014-15 campaign under the stewardship of current Wigan Athletic boss Paul Cook, it’s been an endless run of setbacks and unremitting failure. A period that’s seen them go through six managers on a dramatic slide from the cusp of the Championship to a relegation dog-fight at the bottom of the National League.

A club that famously reached the FA Cup semi-final in 1997 is at serious risk of suffering a third relegation in four seasons and heading into the sixth-tier of English football and all-time low point in their history.

But how have things gone so wrong so fast for Chesterfield?

Catalogue of mistakes

Liam Norcliffe, Chesterfield reporter for the Derbyshire Times and the Sheffield Star, believes poor decision-making from the top has played a massive part in the Spireites’ ignominious fall from grace.

“I think the main reason why things have gone so wrong for Chesterfield in the last four or five years is down to a catalogue of bad decision-making,” said Norcliffe.

“Paul Cook left and a number of key players were sold and not replaced with the same quality. They’ve been on a downward spiral ever since and not able to turn it around”.

“They had a struggling season in League One after they missed out in the play-offs and then suffered back-to-back relegations out of the Football League. A number of managers have tried to get the club going again but have been unable to.”

Owner Dave Allen has received the brunt of the fans’ frustration over the course of the miserable last few years. By his own admission, his only goal was to get the club into the Championship and then “flog it”.

After just missing out on achieving that feat in 2015, a bitter relationship between the owner and the club ensued as they tumbled down the leagues.

Fans have been staying away, attendances have dwindled and the atmosphere has often been toxic at home games this season. Norcliffe is of the opinion that this has done nothing to help matters on the pitch for the struggling Spireites.

“You can’t doubt the level of investment that Dave Allen has put in,” he said.

“But I think the fans think the club has been left to dwindle away and he’s lost interest. He doesn’t come to games anymore, he only appears and talks to the media when they announce a new manager or to ask for backing from the fans.

“I think that’s a lot of the frustration, there’s not much passion there anymore”.

Managerial merry-go-round

Chesterfield sacked yet another manager in January when they axed boss John Sheridan, ending his second spell in charge of the club after just under a year at the helm.

Supporter Kurt Bigg thinks that Sheridan’s lack of experience in non-league was one of the main contributing factors behind his struggles.

“What went wrong for John Sheridan is that he was not a National League manager. He started off well but the difference between the EFL and non-league is bigger than people realise.

“It’s the same with the players as well, and that is where he went wrong. The side didn’t look like they want it as much as teams like Barrow and Bromley want it.”

Again, a bitter relationship between Sheridan and the fans began to brew, with fans desperate for change but with the journeyman digging his heels in and the club reluctant to pay him off.

Since Cook’s departure for Portsmouth in 2015, Chesterfield have tried everything to try and breathe some life back into the club.

They’ve gone for young and hungry managers like Jack Lester and Gary Caldwell, and they’ve also gone for more experienced coaches like Danny Wilson and Martin Allen – but no one has been able to restore the club’s fortunes.

Norcliffe feels that the environment that these managers have had to work in has left them with little chance of success and, again, the owners are at fault.

He said: “On paper, you can see why they went for them. Jack Lester is a legend of the club and they thought that might galvanise everyone, Martin Allen is an experienced manager with great knowledge of the lower-leagues, Gary Caldwell did a decent job at Wigan.

“In terms of why it’s gone wrong, it’s a number of different factors in terms of the way the club’s been run. There’s not much of a connection between the fans and the owners. They’ve never really replaced the players that left when they were in League One and it just needs someone to kick-start the club”.

Fresh hope?

Late last year, it was revealed that Dave Allen’s reign at Chesterfield could be coming to the end with Chesterfield FC Trust completing their due diligence on a deal which would see them increase their shareholding in the club to 84%.

However, on 17th January it was reported that the takeover bid had suffered a “setback” and the future of the club was plunged back into major doubt.

Bigg is desperate for the issues in the bid to be resolved and the takeover to go through, as he feels it would present the fans with fresh hope that the club can start moving in the right direction again.

He said: “We already saw an increase of 600 home fans for the game against Sutton and the takeover will bring back a lot more who are still staying away for the time being.

An evening game at the 10,500-capacity
Proact Stadium: Photo by Craig D Hannah via Flickr Creative Commons

“A club like Chesterfield is too big to be in the National League. And once under stable ownership and with the right manager, we can march towards the Football League and a brighter future”.

The next managerial appointment will be key for the Spireites. John Pemberton, currently caretaker boss, is in the running and has already put smiles back on faces with two wins in his first two matches in charge.

“Pemberton knows the club well,” says Norcliffe.

“He was the academy manager, and the fans have taken to him really well as he had a little stint as caretaker boss last year as well and got a couple of decent results.

“He comes across really well, the players like him, he’s a good coach. It’s his job to lose.

“He’s definitely said the right sort of things so far, it’s just about whether he can get a couple of results over the next month or so to get them away from the drop-zone.”

Whoever takes charge has got a huge job on their hands, not just in keeping the club up, but also restoring the pride and enthusiasm back into the town. That will only happen once a fanbase that’s been battered and bruised by four years of hurt can learn to truly love their club again.

Intrepid Oxford nearly stun Manchester City in Carabao Cup

In an era of football that’s controlled by money and greed and spoiled at the top-level by the passion-sapping VAR, Oxford United’s performance against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City on Wednesday evening reminded a few of the reasons why they fell in love with football in the first place.

On a cold and rainy evening at the Kassam Stadium, Karl Robinson’s side lit the place up with a courageous display that very nearly stunned the reigning champions of England.

Joao Cancelo broke the deadlock for the visitors with a shot that deflected off defender Elliott Moore and looped over goalkeeper Jordan Archer in the 22nd minute. A slice of luck for City in an otherwise cagey first-half.

The roof came off less than 30 seconds into the second-half, though, when Matty Taylor – a local lad on loan from Bristol City – produced a moment that he’d have dreamt off as a child; skinning Taylor Harwood-Bellis after a quick free-kick from Shandon Baptiste and blasting past Claudio Bravo to level the scores and send the fans wild.

Two breakaway goals from Raheem Sterling sent City into the semi-finals, but they were certainly made to work for it by a tremendous Oxford side.

Fearless

Manchester City’s rising star Phil Foden was in a confident mood before the match, saying the team were “excited to go further” in the Carabao Cup and that he knows “what Oxford are about” after cruising past the U’s with a 3-0 win in the same competition last season.

Little did the 19-year old know, Guardiola’s side were facing a totally different proposition this season.

Last season, United only managed a single shot. A long-range attempt from Ricky Holmes was the closest the U’s came to breaking down a defence that only conceded 23 goals in the entirety of a league campaign that yielded a staggering 98 points.

This time around, they managed 18 attempts; the most Pep Guardiola has faced in a single match since taking charge of Manchester City in 2017.

13 of those shots came from inside the box and five of them were on target, which is one more attempt on goal than City managed. A remarkable feat for a side plying their trade in the third-tier of English football and a real sign of their progress in the last 12 months.

Oxford showed no signs of fear with the way they set up. Instead of sticking men behind the ball and longing for a penalty shoot-out from kick-off, they played City at their own game and actually bettered them at it for a couple of spells.

Instead of playing a defensive and conservative formation, Robinson started with two pacey wingers in Dan Agyei and Tariqe Fosu after the Liverpool-born boss took inspiration from how the speed of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah helped Jurgen Klopp’s team overcome City in November.

Make no mistake, Oxford weren’t there just to take part and meet their favourite stars, they were there to knock them out of the cup.

Perhaps a few nerves crept into the first-half performance with a couple of Oxford’s stars uncharacteristically sloppy in possession but, after what was surely an impassioned half-time speech from Robinson at the break, United took the match to their opponents in the second-half with a raucous crowd fully behind them.

Within a minute of the restart, United were level. And, although Sterling had City back in front soon after, Oxford never lost hope of a famous upset; pressing and attacking the visitors with no concern of how much they cost or the amount of international caps they have to their name.

Baptiste and Cameron Brannagan drove United on from midfield with tough-tackling Spaniard Alex Gorrin sitting in front of the back-four and mopping up any danger. Fosu and Mark Sykes – who’d come on for Agyei early in the second-half – were hurting City from the wide areas with their pace and guile.

It wasn’t just a performance fuelled by adrenaline. Oxford looked composed on the ball and confident enough to knock the ball around world-class footballers worth hundreds of millions of pounds. There were spells where the team in yellow looked every bit as good as the team in sky blue.

Chances for Rob Dickie, Sykes and substitute Jamie Mackie went begging for Oxford as they poured forward with pace and intensity in the final furlong of the match. A little bit more of a clinical touch in front of goal could have made the night even more special for Robinson’s men, but it wasn’t to be.

City’s quality eventually shone through, but the fact that Guardiola was forced to introduce Ilkay Gundogan and Gabriel Jesus from the bench and even attempt to waste time towards the end was a compliment to the home side’s display.

‘Jim would have been proud’

Oxford paid tribute to legendary former manager Jim Smith before the game with a minute’s applause and an emotional rendition of ‘One Bald Eagle’ – the nickname that Smith was affectionately known by during his successful spell with the club in the 1980s.

During Smith’s stint at Oxford, he captured the fans’ imagination with a gutsy and fearless set of players achieving back-to-back promotions from the third division to the top-flight. In United’s first home game since Smith’s passing, it was as if he’d sprinkled a little bit of the old magic from above on the team in yellow and blue.

It was a spine of Malcolm Shotton, Trevor Hebberd and John Aldridge that roared the U’s to success during Smith’s first spell in charge of the club. Now players such as Rob Dickie, Cameron Brannagan and Matty Taylor have a chance to write their names into the club’s folklore by continuing this momentum in United’s league campaign.

Robinson said that he thought Smith would have been “proud” of his former side’s performance. There’s very little doubt about that. Jim might be gone, but it’s quite evident that his legacy is living on at Oxford United.

Amex Stadium, Brighton

Preview: Brighton & Hove Albion vs Leicester City (23/11/19)

Leicester travel to the Amex Stadium at the weekend looking to pick up where they left off before the international break and hold onto second spot in the Premier League.

Brighton will also be hoping to continue their steady climb up the Premier League table and secure their fourth consecutive home win.

Brighton team news

Seagulls boss Graham Potter has a defensive dilemma on his hands heading into the weekend, with centre-back Adam Webster out injured and Lewis Dunk serving a one-match ban for picking up five yellow cards.

This might provide a rare opportunity to German-Nigerian defender Leon Balogun, who made just eight league appearances for Brighton last season and has only featured once this term, in the Carabao Cup.

A late fitness test will determine whether rising star Aaron Connolly has shaken off a groin injury in time to feature against the Foxes. Veteran attacker Glenn Murray will be waiting in the wings if the young Irishman doesn’t make it, hoping to end his scoring drought and bag his first league goal of the campaign.

The good news for Potter is that Belgian wideman Leandro Toussard has recovered from an ankle injury and is likely to come back into the matchday squad.

Leicester team news

Key man James Maddison picked up a knock whilst away on international duty with England, but according to Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers, he is expected to recover in time for the Foxes’ trip to the Amex.

Jonny Evans was hospitalised with a bad illness whilst away with Northern Ireland, but Rodgers confirmed that he is also expected to recover and play in this key match in the Premier League.

Manager quotes

Brighton manager Graham Potter: “[Rodgers’] teams play with intelligence and organisation and he’s a top coach and manager.

“Leicester have been in good form recently and Jamie Vardy has been very clinical.

“But he’d be the first to say that it’s as much about the team behind him too that are creating chances for him.”

Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers: “We’ve got a tough schedule over the next couple of months and we’ll need the whole squad.

“We need to keep our focus. Football is difficult to forecast. I can only prepare our team, I can only focus on the next game.

“I learned when I was younger when I tried to think about how many points we will get over the next five games, it’s better to just focus on the next game.”

Form

Brighton & Hove Albion (11th): LWLWWL

Leicester City (2nd): LWWWWW

Past meetings

Brighton and Leicester have faced each other 33 times in their history. Leicester winning 14 of them, Brighton coming away the victors 13 times and neither side able to get the better of one another on six occasions.

The Seagulls have failed to overcome Leicester in their last four meetings, though. Goals from Demarai Gray and Jamie Vardy condemned Brighton to a 2-1 defeat the last time these two teams met in February earlier this year at the King Power Stadium.

The last time Brighton managed to defeat Leicester was back in 2014; goals from Stephen Ward and Jesse Lingard plus a Leonardo Ulloa brace condemned the Foxes to a 4-1 defeat when both sides were plying their trade in the Championship.

Amex Stadium image credit by JJ Hall via Flickr Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Every England manager ranked: 15th-1st

As England play their 1,000th match against Montenegro at Wembley on November 14th, Elephant Sport takes a look at the men who have taken charge of the Three Lions down the years.

15. Sam Allardyce (2016)

‘Big Sam’ is the hardest to judge of them all, seeing as he only had one game in charge – an utterly forgettable game against Slovakia that was won by Adam Lallana in the 95th-minute.

His reign was brought to an abrupt and infamous end after a newspaper sting purported to show him offering advice on how to “get around” rules on third-party player ownership.

Despite being the only permanent England manager with a 100% win record, the embarrassment that Allardyce brought on the FA and the briefness of his reign puts him stone dead last in this list.

14. Steve McClaren (2006-2007)

He was nicknamed the ‘wally with the brolly’ after he sheltered under an umbrella in the pouring rain during England’s 3-2 defeat to Croatia at Wembley – a result that ended their hopes of reaching the 2008 European Championships.

Generally viewed as one of the Three Lions’ least inspiring managers, and considering the quality of the squad McClaren had at his disposal, the failure to qualify for Euro 2008 has to go down as one of the biggest under-achievements in England’s history.

13. Kevin Keegan (1999-2000)

Keegan was an icon whilst representing England in his playing days, but he failed to achieve the same distinguished status as manager – to put it politely.

The former Newcastle United boss’ side exited Euro 2000 after Phil Neville gave a last-minute penalty away in a 3-2 defeat to Romania, and dramatically quit his role as boss after a 1-0 defeat against Germany in the last-ever match at the old Wembley.

It’s fair to say it wasn’t an enjoyable time for England fans – nor, by his admission, was it an enjoyable time for Keegan, later saying he “found it hard to fill in the time”.

12. Graham Taylor (1990-1993)

Taylor remains a well-respected figure in football for his success with Watford and Aston Villa in the 80’s and 90’s but, much like Keegan, he proved that international management isn’t for everyone, with an ignominious stint in charge of England.

The ex-Villa boss was famously depicted as a turnip on the front of a tabloid newspaper following England’s 3-2 defeat to Sweden in Euro 1992 and, after the dismal failure to qualify for the World Cup in the USA, resigned from his post in 1993.

11. Don Revie (1974-1977)

Revie was the mastermind of the great Leeds United team of the 70’s, but failed to live up to expectations as England manager.

He was appointed to much fanfare in 1974, but the Leeds legend failed to get England to Euro 1976 and left for a highly-lucrative move to coach the United Arab Emirates a year later. It was always going to be tough to succeed the great Sir Alf Ramsay, but someone of Revie’s calibre should have performed a lot better.

10. Fabio Capello (2008-2012)

Capello was one of the biggest names in football management when he got the England job in 2008. Considering his huge reputation as a manager across Europe, coupled with the talented crop of players at his disposal, it was difficult to see how this could possibly go wrong – but it did.

Despite a very strong qualifying campaign for World Cup 2010, the tournament itself was a disaster. A dreary 0-0 draw with Algeria was sandwiched in between a Rob Green howler against USA and a thrashing against old rivals Germany.

The Italian dramatically resigned from his post after John Terry was stripped of the captaincy against his wishes. Not many England fans were sad to see the back of him.

9. Sven Goran-Eriksson (2001-2006)

The Swede became the first foreign manager of the England national team in 2001 when he replaced Kevin Keegan. Eriksson was seen as something of a master tactician and, following success in Serie A with Sampdoria and Lazio, it seemed like a forward-thinking choice.

However – despite having the so-called ‘golden generation’ at his disposal – Sven could only guide England to the quarter-final stage of the 2002 World Cup, Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup. He really should have done a lot better with the squad that he had, and the way that quality was squandered means he won’t be remembered fondly as England boss.

8. Roy Hodgson (2012-2016)

The former Liverpool and Inter Milan manager swooped in and pinched the England job from right under Harry Redknapp’s nose in 2012 after Capello dramatically walked out just a few months before the start of the European Championships.

Hodgson steered England to the quarter-finals of that tournament, where they were ultimately knocked out on penalties by Italy. That wasn’t a bad achievement under the circumstances, but that’s as good as it got for him.

His side crashed out at the group-stage of the 2014 World Cup and were then embarrassingly dumped out of Euro 2016 by Iceland, which led him to resign in his post-match press conference.

He maneuvered some tricky circumstances well and always managed to guide England through strong qualifying campaigns, but the way his sides crumbled at the finals of major tournaments leaves Hodgson mid-table in this list.

7. Ron Greenwood (1977-1982)

Greenwood isn’t somebody that is particularly well-remembered and wasn’t that highly thought-of at the time either; mainly due to him not being Brian Clough, who many thought should have been given the job back in 1977.

However, he was important in the revival of England; finally steering the nation back into a major tournament in 1980 after a decade-long absence. Greenwood’s tenure also included the landmark selection of England’s first-ever black player when Viv Anderson was included in the squad in 1978.

His England team went unbeaten at the 1982 World Cup in Spain, but missed out on a semi-final spot after failing to beat the hosts in the second group stage. Despite that, Greenwood remains a bit of a forgotten man in England’s history and, therefore, only manages seventh place on this list.

6. Glenn Hoddle (1996-1999)

Hoddle’s ideas, on paper, looked exciting. As befitted one of the most exciting talents of his generation, his aim were to play an attacking, stylish brand of football and drag the national team into a modern era of the game.

His stint in charge was eventful. He brought a young Michael Owen into the squad for the World Cup in 1998 and, well, the rest is history, as they say. That was also the match where David Beckham was infamously sent off for petuntately kicking out at Diego Simeone.

He left the role in controversial circumstances after doing an interview where he seemed to suggest that people with disabilities were being punished for sins in a former life. Unsurprisingly, the FA didn’t react well to these statements and fired him soon after.

There’s a feeling that Hoddle left before he really got started and could have been more successful. Due to some of the failings of many of the managers who’ve followed him, he’s ranked fairly highly in this list.

5. Walter Winterbottom (1946-1962)

Seeing as Winterbottom left his post nearly 60 years ago, it’s hardly surprising that many England fans will never have heard of him.

He was England’s first-ever manager and is the longest-serving coach in the history of the nation, staying in charge for 16 years. He took England to four World Cup tournaments and also helped revolutionise the managerial role, putting more emphasis on coaching players on the training ground.

Some argue that he never really recovered from the embarrassing 6-3 home defeat to Hungary in 1953 and his sides never went far enough at major tournaments, but his pioneering influence as coach paved the way for future managers and leaves him with a strong legacy in the game.

4. Gareth Southgate (2016-present)

After finding themselves in a post-Allardyce wilderness, Southgate sewed England back together and made watching them enjoyable again in that unforgettable summer of sun, singing and beer-throwing in 2018.

He certainly wasn’t everyone’s first choice when he took the reins in 2016; seen as just another FA ‘yes man’. But he soon stamped his authority on the side by phasing out an ageing Wayne Rooney, bringing through young players and switching to a three-at-the-back system for the World Cup.

The former U21 boss saw his changes work wonders as England reached the semi-finals for the first time since 1990; falling at the penultimate hurdle against Croatia. It’s still early days in Southgate’s tenure, but the summer of ‘18 won’t be forgotten in a hurry and that puts the current coach up in fourth-place.

3. Terry Venables (1994-1996)

Much like Southgate, Venables put the enjoyment back into watching England after the failure of missing out on a place at the World Cup in 1994. England really captured the imagination of a nation on home soil at Euro ’96 and, again, much like Southgate, helped produce another unforgettable summer in the nation’s sporting history. The 4-1 hammering of the Netherlands remains one of England’s all-time great performances.

He didn’t stick around for as long as perhaps he should have, but the memories he helped created coupled with the way he got the best out of his players – Paul Gascoigne in particular – means he sneaks into the top-three.

2. Bobby Robson (1982-1990)

Robson is remembered as the suave, charming, twinkly-eyed coach who nearly guided England to their second World Cup triumph in 1990. He undoubtedly goes down as a legend, but he wasn’t always liked in the same way that he is now.

The former Ipswich and Barcelona boss had a mixed record at tournaments and was subject to mass derision in the press before that memorable World Cup campaign of 1990 after a fairly disastrous Euro 1988, where England lost all three of the matches they played.

However, Robson turned things around in Italy two years later; cementing himself as a legend within the game.

1. Alf Ramsey (1963-1974)

It won’t come as much surprise to anyone that Sir Alf Ramsey tops this list, considering he remains the only England manager to life the World Cup aloft.

The second longest-serving boss guided a side that contained the likes of Gordon Banks, Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton to the nation’s only trophy in 1966 with a famous 4-2 win over West Germany at Wembley Stadium.

Despite his tenure tailing off and failing to lead the side to Euro 1972 and the 1974 World Cup, it’s difficult to look beyond Ramsey as the greatest England manager of all time. It’s been over 60 years now and there’s still not been a man to repeat his feat. It’ll be interesting to see how much longer that wait goes on…

Image credits: Dmitry Sadovnikov, Rob Anefo & Anton Zaitsevvia via Wikipedia Commons.

Why boxing needs the World Boxing Super Series

How often does sport really make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up? Mine did as I watched Nonito Donaire and Naoya Inoue battle it out in one of the all-time great fights in the bantamweight final of the World Boxing Super Series in Saitama, Japan.

It’s quite rare that we get to see two warriors fearlessly attempt to unify their belts in an era of boxing where money and the boxing’s politics often conspire to prevent big fights from happening. And yet, thanks to the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS), we’ve been treated to two incredible fight-of-the-year contenders in as many weeks.

On October 26th, in front of a packed O2 Arena in London, Josh Taylor and Regis Prograis produced scintillating displays, with Taylor capturing the WBA and Ring Magazine belts, as well as the Super Series’ Ali Trophy in a close but deserved majority win, just five months after winning the IBF title against Ivan Barachynk in Glasgow.

And, two weeks later, just when you think it can’t get any better; a modern-day classic that’ll be talked about for years to come was produced in Japan. Inoue – one of the most talked about fighters on the planet – edged a decision win against former four-weight world champion Donaire; the Phillipino very nearly shocking the world and conjuring up the seemingly possible in his probable farewell from the sport.

Phenomenal

The contest had everything: skill, drama, grit, heart and an 11th-round that’ll surely go down as one of the best ever seen in the sport. Despite sustaining a nasty-looking cut early on in the fight, Inoue – who is fast becoming a pound-for-pound star – was the one to lift the Ali Trophy aloft, defend his IBF world title, capture the coveted Ring Magazine belt and win the WBA strap from his Phillipino counterpart.

Former WBSS cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk in training

This phenomenal conclusion to the second season of the WBSS is no one-off either. Last year’s tournaments didn’t exactly disappoint. British fighter Callum Smith shocked many by winning the light-heavyweight version of the tournament in Saudi Arabia, sending icon George Groves into retirement in the process.

Not many will forget the dramatic cruiserweight tournament either. Oleksandr Usyk produced a remarkable individual crusade towards greatness by beating Marco Huck, Mairis Briedis and Murat Gassiev in their home nations; thrusting the Ukranian into the public domain and building a profile that should earn him a heavyweight title shot next year. It really was a demonstration of what boxing can do when its frustrating politics are put to one side.

The WBSS sounds great, doesn’t it? The best fighting the best, immediate unifications with no opportunity for fighters to take easy defences after winning world titles, plus epic production values, with amazing light shows that make every show unforgettable. It sounds almost too good to be true.

So why are there rumours swirling around that the second season of the WBSS could also be its last?

Fears

In fairness, it’s not always gone smoothly. The WBSS – headed up by Kalle and Nisse Saureland – was founded as a tournament that looked to bring the best-of-the-best of each weight division into a knockout-style competition.

However, they haven’t always been able to secure every big name possible. Jose Ramirez – the current WBO super-lightweight champion – was a notable absentee from this year’s tournament.

“Boxing needs these fights to happen in order to keep up with mixed martial arts”

There were also fears earlier this year that the tournament may even discontinue before season two reached its conclusion due to complicated issues with investors. A competition attempting to get the biggest stars in world boxing on board was always going to need serious investment and, without that, there’s really no place for the tournament to go. Especially if they want to try and target some of the higher weight divisions.

Let’s hope that these problems can be put to one side, though, and the WBSS can continue for a few more series to come. This is fantasy boxing, an idea that only a true purist could dream up.

We live in a world where fights like Crawford vs Spence and Joshua vs Wilder are just quixotic debates in the pub rather than real-life fights in the ring. This tournament makes those dream super-fights a reality.

Boxing needs these fights to happen in order to keep up with mixed martial arts – another combat sport that is rapidly growing in popularity amongst the younger demographic.

Future

Last week, a world championship fight between Canelo Alvarez and Sergey Kovalev was delayed so it didn’t clash with Nate Diaz’s MMA bout with Jose Masvidal in the UFC. A worrying indication at where boxing is in comparison to other sports.

The Sauerland brothers are attempting to breathe new life into it by forcing unifications and putting on amazing events involving incredible fights in the process. It doesn’t just buy ready-made stars in either, it makes them.

Last year, it was Usyk and Smith who shot to fame as a result of their WBSS glory. This year, Taylor and Inoue will be the ones to rise to the summit. The Japanese star has already been snapped up by Bob Arum’s Top Rank on a highly-lucrative, multi-year deal.

There’s no denying that the project has had its issues, and future seasons would have to run a lot smoother than the first two, but to give up on the concept would be a crying shame after it has helped deliver so many amazing fights in such a short space of time.

The WBSS simply must be preserved for as long as possible – whatever the cost.

Image credits: MR Gatis & Andriy Makukha via flickr.com.