All posts by Kortney Hudson

Simeon Akinola v PAFC

Q&A – Barnet striker Simeon Akinola

Simeon Akinola was tipped as “non-league’s next star” last summer by Lincoln City manager Danny Cowley, whose reputation for spotting talent has surely been underlined by the Imps’ sensational run to the FA Cup quarter-finals.

The Nigerian-born striker has played for Borehamwood, Billericay, Harrow Borough and under Cowley at Braintree. He was signed from the latter by League Two Barnet ahead of the January transfer window for £40,000.

Six years ago, Akinola was trying to impress in an open trial at his current club, and his route into the Football League hasn’t been straightforward.

He’s also played in Spain, having spent part of his upbringing in Madrid, and has a degree in engineering.

Elephant Sport spoke to the 24-year-old forward about his career to date, working with Cowley and his university studies.

 

What was it like being described as the ‘non-league’s next star’ by Lincoln City manager Danny Cowley?

It was great encouragement because Danny is well-respected within football. He’s someone I really admire, and to hear such praise from him was very positive.

You joined Barnet FC in January and must have been delighted to make the step from non-league to professional status?

Absolutely. It’s been my target ever since I arrived from Spain in 2007. I’m delighted to be part of Barnet FC and I look forward to help this club progress.

How much of a difference is it from turning out for the likes of Borehamwood, Billericay and Braintree to playing full-time?

It’s certainly a step up, particularly because of the fitness levels you reach as a full-time professional. Yet, I look fondly to the time I spent at those clubs because I gained skills that will help me through my career as a pro.

Did you ever think you would play in the professional game?

Yes, I had no doubt. I’ve always been confident in my ability, plus I’ve worked very hard to make sure I was ready for the opportunity.

I have seen your videos on YouTube and one in particular caught my eye. You attended Barnet’s ‘Get Signed Up’ trials, and then six years later you joined them for £40k. What happened at those trials, and do you feel it was destined to be after finally signing for the Bees?

I remember attending those trials when I was younger. You could say it’s destiny in a way because it was when the Hive [Stadium] first opened. But again there are no coincidences. The key to getting here has been God’s grace and hard work.

I read that you are eligible to play for Nigeria and Spain; is international football something you would consider?

It’s every players dream to represent their country. In regards to Spain, it’s very unlikely, but I’d love to represent the Super Eagles at some point in my career.

Not many footballers have a degree. How important was it to you to get yours alongside your football career?

The degree is actually in Systems Engineering! It was something encouraged by my parents. In our culture, education is regarded very highly. Plus it’s always good to have some qualifications for life after football should I decide to use them.

Do you think more footballers should continue their education and study for degrees?

I believe so. Football is unpredictable and the pro game only has room for so many players. A degree or any sort of higher education will ensure those who are unfortunate to not get there have something to fall back on.

After your career in football, will you be using your degree to get a job or will you remain in football? Or being still so young, have you not thought so far ahead?

It’s hard to say. A part of me wants to remain in football to help raise the next generation. But it all depends on how my career pans out.

Finally, a quick word on your former manager Danny Cowley; how well has he done to achieve such greatness with Lincoln City in the FA Cup?

It doesn’t come as a surprise to those who have worked with him before. He’s a top top manager destined for greatness, and I hope to work with him again at some point in the future.

Feature image courtesy of Barnet FC: follow the Bees on Twitter @BarnetFC

You can follow Simeon on Twitter @Simeonakinola15

Elephant Sport Podcast – Transfer Deadline Day Special

In this edition of the Elephant Sport Podcast, reporters Caleb Sage and Hassan Abdullah sit down with Kortney Hudson to discuss the 2017 January transfer window.

Chelsea supporter Caleb and Arsenal fan Hassan, share their views on their teams windows and give an overview on the ins and outs of the Premier League’s winter window wheeling and dealing.

Also discussed is the Chinese Super League, and how the huge transfer fees and wages being offered by its clubs are impacting on European football.

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Why more footballers should be studying for degrees

The only certainty in the life of a professional footballer is that one day they will become an ex-professional footballer.

Some have long careers at the elite end of the sport and invest wisely for their retirement.

Others find themselves released by clubs and unable to find a new one in their early 20s or even younger. More still never get offered pro deals in the first place.

According to the Professional Footballers Association (PFA), of those entering the game aged 16, two years down the line, 50% will be outside professional football. At 21, the attrition rate is 75% or above.

The question is: are young footballers getting the education they need to prepare them for life outside the game?

First-class honours

Many aspiring pros leave school at 16 with a handful of GCSEs, go into full-time football and spend one day a week at college.

Most are pinning their hopes on ‘making it’ but, as the statistics show, the vast majority of them won’t.

So perhaps more should follow the example of Sunderland and England U21 striker Duncan Watmore (pictured above).

In 2015, Watmore graduated from Newcastle University in BA Economics & Business Management, becoming only the second Premier League player gain first-class honours.

Watmore started his degree whilst playing semi-professionally with Altrincham. After joining the Black Cats, he managed to complete his degree, achieving the highest grade possible.

PFA help

According to a report by Xpro.org, an organisation established to assist former professional footballers of all ages, two out of five players are made bankrupt within five years of ending their playing careers, often because they have little education or training to fall back on.

Mindful of the problem, the PFA provides members with many opportunities aimed at their transition into life after football.pfa

Among those backing its work in this area is Bradley Pritchard, who featured in Sky’s ‘Out of Contract’ documentary about players left in limbo after being cut by their clubs.

Like Watmore, the midfielder began his career in the semi-professional game before going on to play for Charlton, Leyton Orient and Stevenage.

At 31, he is now back in non-league with Greenwich Borough but, with the PFA’s help, has added a law qualification to his first degree and is aiming to become a solicitor.

Another testimony on the PFA’s website comes from Carlisle defender Michael Raynes, who graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2016 with a degree in Sports Science.

“I’ve always wanted to do something, my career has always been that of a lower-league footballer, so you always know that you’ll have to get a job when you finish there’s no two ways about it,” he says.

“It’s not like the Premier League players who are financially set. We know that we’ll need a job after, so I’ve always had in my mind that I wanted to have the best opportunity to do something that I enjoy and that’s how I looked at it.

“It was an opportunity for me to determine where my path after football goes instead of clutching at things and trying to find a job.”

No appeal

So why, with testimonies like these available to inspire footballers, are so many players finishing their careers with little education to fall back on?

For many, football is a way out of having to rely on qualifications to get a job. It’s their route to wealth, fame and acclaim, and it sidelines thoughts of college or university.

“Maybe it’s better to take the route of Pritchard and Watmore, who didn’t go through the professional academy system and completed their education first?”

In the higher leagues, young players are offered huge amounts of money and have agents taking care of everything for them. They are thrust into the limelight and think it will be on them forever.

Former professional Stephen O’Halloran was forced to think about life after football when two cruciate ligament injuries during his time at Aston Villa forced him to quit the pro ranks and go semi-professional.

He qualified as a physiotherapist, graduating from University of Salford in 2016 whilst playing for Salford City part-time, and now had a full-time job in the NHS thanks to his degree.

O’Halloran told the PFA website: “I made the decision about four years ago [aged 24] that I didn’t want to be going from club to club without anything to back me up.

“I was about to sign for Nuneaton in the National League when I got onto the course with the help of [assistant director of education] Oshor Williams at the PFA.”

Better off in education than academies

Watmore and Pritchard’s stories are different to those of O’Halloran and Raynes. The latter were young professionals who went back into education once they realised that football wasn’t a lifelong career.

Watmore and Pritchard completed their education and degrees before becoming pro footballers, and that fact begs the question if the fault lies with the academies of professional clubs.

The fact that older players are having to go back into education once the penny drops about brevity of their careers is surely down to a lack of guidance given to them as young pros.

Academies need to do more to encourage young professionals to go university, or study things other than sports science and exercise at college, to give them the best chance at finding what’s best for them after football.

So maybe it’s better to take the route of Pritchard and Watmore, who didn’t go through the professional academy system and completed their education first?

Finding my feet on a festive ice skating rink

As Christmas approaches, ice rinks start to pop up all over the country, and novices like myself take to the slippery stuff, hoping to retaining as much dignity as possible when the inevitable fall occurs.

Tower of London was the famous landmark where my six friends and I decided to put on our skates for a catch up under a clear and starry sky.

Having only ever seen skating on the TV, I was wary of stepping on the ice for the first time and held onto the barriers like my life depended on it.

The trouble with ice is that it’s hard, and taking a tumble on it is going to hurt…

However, after watching the skate marshals prepare the surface for our session, it was time to take to the rink.  At this point, I was shaking but wasn’t sure if it was a result of fear or the cold.

Not all my friends were as unfamiliar to gliding on blades as I was, with Connor and Emmanuel ready to give Olympic champions Torvill and Dean a run for their money.

Finding my feet

After taking baby steps on the ice, I realised that it is very similar to roller skating (which I am good at), and that using the same principles of one foot in front of the other whilst propelling yourself with the forward foot would prove successful.

Ice skating is like riding a bike for the first time – you need stabilisers (in this case, a friend’s arm) until you learn to keep your balance and then off you go.

img_5037Having found my feet, I was able to join my friends in circling the rink, weaving in and out of people to try and tag my each other in a game of “ad on ice”. (I highly recommend against anyone doing this)

We thought we had mastered the art until we watched a marshal skate at full speed towards a sleigh in the middle of the rink and leap over it landing back on his feet like a pro.

Growing in confidence

The rink rules state that everyone skates in the same direction, with novices on the outside and more experienced skaters in the middle, which allowed me to gain confidence in my abilities.

We enjoyed our first session on the ice so much, that we decided to stay for the next one, which was less crowded populated and allowed me to move into the middle of the rink and skate more freely.

Our confidence could have been mistaken for arrogance when one of my friends went crashing into a group of ladies, but everyone escaped unharmed whilst seeing the funny side of the accident.

Giving it a go

After an hour-and-a-half of enjoyable skating, your legs start to hurt and your body starts to freeze, but I would certainly go again. Ice Skating is an enjoyable experience and surprisingly easy to get the hang of.

As it’s a seasonal sport, I would recommend you find out where your nearest rink is and get your skates on.

TimeOut provides a list of the ice rinks in London. The one at the Tower returns annually, offering skating sessions day and night in historic surroundings.

The sessions last 45 minutes, which was more than enough time for me to get used to being on the ice. The first is at 11am and last 9pm.

Prices are £13.50 for adults and £9.50 for children and concessions, and tickets can be booked online to avoid long queues in the cold.

To warm yourself up after an embarrassing 45 minutes of trying (and failing) to look graceful, I recommend visiting The Dip Dunk Lodge, where hot food and drink that will warm you up can be purchased with a view of the rink.

Finally, if the ice wasn’t cool enough for you, you can visit the Eis Haus which is exactly what it sounds like – a house made of ice, where you can enjoy a drink in a lounge filled with crystal-clear ice sculptures.

Me? I was cold enough already…

Duty calls in the paintball combat zone

For members of the current gaming generation, the closest to ‘Call of Duty’ that most of us will ever get involves going paintballing.

So after endless nights of honing our combat skills as console warriors, that’s exactly what me and a group of friends signed up to do at the suitably-named Delta Force.

None of us were really up for rolling around in the mud on a cold, wet afternoon, but after a conference call led to arguments over who was the best at first-person shoot-em-ups, suddenly everyone was fired up and ready to literally give it their best shot.

Delta Force has 33 venues nationwide, and its Upminster facility in east London is regarded as one of the best, offering seven game zones which boast a jet aeroplane, four double-decker buses, armoured vehicles, forts and ‘jungle’ environments.

Established in Surrey 20 years ago, the company hosts 500,000 players annually and employs over 1,000 staff to make sure your day out is fun but safe.

Celebrities who have enjoyed the Delta Force and are pictured in its hall of fame include Lewis Hamilton, John Terry, Usain Bolt and Gordon Ramsey.

Safety briefing

The day started early as we had to be on site by 7am in order to get kitted up briefed for the day ahead.

Upon arrival, we were issued with jump suits and helmets as part of our protective gear. Underneath my jump suit, I’d taken matters into my own usain_bolthands and came wearing extra padding to reduce the pain of being shot.

Safety is taken seriously and the briefing to took almost half an hour, and then it was time to enter the field.

The marshals’s are very big on safety, once you exit the ‘safe zone’ to pick up your gun, your protective helmet can’t come off until you return your gun and re-enter the safe zone.

Not even when you have been shot and are out of the game – if you are found to have removed or lifted your helmet you will find it quickly slammed down over your face by a marshal and you are then on a final warning before you have to be removed.

All safety equipment is included in the adult entry price of £9.99, and the only thing you pay extra for are your paintballs.

These always seem to run out, no matter how many you buy, and the more you purchase the more you have to carry with you on the battlefield with the risk of losing them.

To avoid disappointment, at the beginning of every battle, I bought 100 for £7.99.

After picking up our guns, we had the option of getting our eye in on the shooting range, but as experienced Call of Duty players, we decided to save our bullets for when it really mattered.

Bait

The first zone was called ‘Jet Hijack’, and as the attacking team we had to storm an aircraft and free hostages from the ‘terrorists’ holding them captive.

Staying low and getting close to the plane was key, but because it was in the centre of a open field, its defenders had a clean shot at us.

“Shooting someone especially when it’s a friend is a great feeling and gives you plenty to boast about afterwards”

That’s where our gaming experience kicked in, and half of us acted as bait to draw their fire while the rest of the team played the role of assassins taking out the enemy one by one until the hostages were in safe hands.

Ambushing the plane to save the hostages meant I got shot and was out until the next time, and being shot by a paintball is one of the most painful things I have experienced.

Although I was wearing a protective mask, I was some how shot on my lip through the mask and had to raise my hand (surrender) to alert everyone that I had been hit and was out.

Once you surrender, people aren’ t meant to shoot you but some of the opposition see it as the perfect opportunity to test their long-range shooting and hit you for fun.

Being hit in the face is pretty painful, but most people tell me that being shot on your hand is the worst place to be hit because of the lack of fat.

In comparison, shooting someone especially when it’s a friend is a great feeling and gives you plenty to boast about afterwards.

Ceasefire

img_4042

Each game has its own objectives for the defending and attacking teams, and each team faces obstacles in trying to achieve their objectives, but ‘Jet Hijack’ was my personal favourite.

Six battles and countless hits, misses and minor bruises later, the day had ended and out of the 10 teams taking part we finished a respectable fourth.

Playing against experienced players and older groups of lads showed us that we need to play Call of Duty a lot more often to be able to mix it with the hardcore paintballers.

We were up against groups of friends who take paintballing very serious to the point where they bring their own guns, grenades and armour.

Recreating real-life combat situations is clearly very different, and a lot more demanding, than sitting on your sofa in front of the TV screen.

But I would recommend paintballing to everyone – the thrill of shooting your first round is like no other.

To find out where you can experience paintballing at Delta Force, visit their website.

‘Chess is an unforgiving mistress’

While debate currently rages about whether competitive video gaming should be seen as a sport, it’s easy to forget that chess has been at the centre of a similar argument for centuries.

Can two players sitting on opposite sides of a board and contemplating their next move really be considered a sporting spectacle?

Whatever, your thoughts on that, the fact is the recent World Chess Championship in New York attracted fans ready to pay as much as $1,200 for VIP lounge access.

The contest between title holder Magnus Carlsen, 25, of Norway and Russian challenger Sergey Karjakin, 26, was worth $1.1m and attracted plenty of media attention.

But what is it about this ancient game, with its myriad stratagems and colourful-sounding attacks and defences, that makes it more than just…well, a game.

Character

James Coleman, a professional player and coach, has competed at tournaments all over the world.

He told Elephant Sport: “One of the things about chess that I think is so great, is that it doesn’t have to be the same thing to everybody.

“”Even after over 30 years of playing, studying or thinking about the game every single day, I can still find something new, surprising or beautiful to appreciate”

“In that sense, I think that it can be just a board game. If someone enjoys to play it occasionally, casually, as a way of passing the time, or something to pass onto their children – as my dad did to me – then I think that’s great and there’s nothing wrong with that.

“On the other hand, there’s nothing quite like the highs and lows of tournament play. Every serious player will know the pain of defeat in an important game, and a great win can provide a huge sense of euphoria.

“As someone once famously said about sports, that they don’t build character, they reveal it, and this is certainly true for chess as well.”

Endless possibilities

Coleman, 39, “I was first taught to play by my father when I was around seven years old. He wasn’t a particularly strong player but showed me the basics, and I’ve always been very competitive by nature so it was natural that I wanted to improve in order to get the better of him.

“So I sought out other opponents, borrowed books from the library, and practised against some of the primitive chess computers. Once I immersed myself in it, I just fell in love with the endless possibilities and the challenges that it brought.

“Even after over 30 years of playing, studying or thinking about the game every single day, I can still find something new, surprising or beautiful to appreciate.”

Coleman is not the first and won’t be the last to be bewitched by the challenges that chess provides, but how would he convince a general sports fans to take more of an interest in it?

Prestigious

Coleman believes chess requires a lot more specialist knowledge to play and that it takes a lot more to appreciate a deep chess move by a world champion, than it would to, say, appreciate a hole in one by Tiger Woods.

But he added: “The invention of the internet has been a real gift to chess fans, making it possible to follow the big games in real time – something that was inconceivable when I first became interested in the game.”

This year’s World Championship ended initially in a draw between Carlsen and Karjakin, with the Norwegian going on to win a tiebreaker to retain his title.

Ticket prices started at $75, and Hollywood star (and avid player) Woody Harrelson was among the crowd attracted to the prestigious event.

Electric atmosphere

Coleman said: “Well, I doubt that Woody Harrelson had to pay, but I think that for fans that pay to experience such things, it’s about being part of something, the world championship doesn’t happen very often, you know.

“The atmosphere can be electric and you can really feel the tension because of the stakes involved – the title and prestige as opposed to the money.

“You’re seeing guys at the top of their game, in some cases close to achieving their lifelong dream, and you know from your own experience how easily things can go wrong. Chess is an unforgiving mistress.”

The rewards are certainly there for the very best players, and Carlsen has also done modelling work and commercials for the likes of Porsche. His contests are broadcast live on primetime Norwegian TV.

Higher profile

And yet this year’s prize fund of $1.1m at at the World Championship is worth substantially less than when the event was last held in Manhattan 21 years ago.

“The players have teams of analysts, physios, chefs and whatever else for the duration of the event”

Then, with the final played on the 107th-floor observatory deck in the south tower of the World Trade Center, $1.5m was at stake as Garry Kasparov retained his title against Viswanathan Anand.

There’s no doubting that chess had had a higher profile in the past, such as when America’s Bobby Fischer took on Russia’s Boris Spassky in Rekyavik in 1972 – a contest seen as an extension of the Cold War.

Still, $1.1m is not an insubstantial amount, although Coleman adds there is plenty for the players to pay for at world championship level.

“I don’t actually know the specific breakdown of where the funds come from, but it’s usually corporate sponsorship under the umbrella of FIDE (the World Chess Federation).

“Of course, while the players no doubt do very nicely financially, they have teams of analysts, physios, chefs and whatever else for the duration of the event, all of whom need to be paid so without a healthy prize fund, the matches simply couldn’t take place.”

You can view James’ profile at chess.com and you can follow him on Twitter @JColemanChess. Feature image courtesy of Carollina Li via Flickr Creative Commons

Five famous footballing returns

Many Liverpool fans were hoping against hope that club icon Steven Gerrard might have one last hurrah at Anfield after leaving MLS club LA Galaxy.

Gerrard, 36, opted to end his playing career last week, but may one day return to Liverpool in another role – possibly as a coach and potential manager?

For a footballer, leaving the club where you are seen as a legend is an incredibly hard decision, but the chance to return as a player or manager can be an even bigger one.

Remind everyone why you became a hero in the first place, or ruin your reputation; which way will it fall?

Here are five of those who did it best:

5 – Graeme Le Saux – Chelsea

Graeme Le Saux’s first spell at Chelsea ended in anger but the second was glorious.

Le Saux was the most expensive defender in England at the time at £5m – a far cry from the £30m Chelsea recently paid for David Luiz to return to the club after a £50million move to PSG two years earlier – when he returned after a controversial first spell in west London. 17 Sep 2000: Graeme Le Saux of Chelsea in action during the FA Carling Premiership match against Leicester City at Stamford Bridge in London. Leicester City won the match 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Dave Cannon /Allsport

In 1993 Le Saux was a regular starter at Stamford Bridge, but rarely lasted the whole match, and when he was taken off at Southampton, it proved too much for him to take and he ripped off his shirt in disgust, throwing it on the feet of manager Ian Portfield.

The defender was soon on his way to Blackburn Rovers, where in his first full season, he helped them win the Premier League title and became an England regular.

In 1997 he returned to Chelsea, making him English football’s most expensive defender and in the next three years, they won the FA Cup, League Cup, Cup winner’s Cup and UEFA Super Cup.

Leaving Chelsea as the “villain” for showing disrespect to the manager was tough enough, but returning to the club that sold you after your misdemeanours is a risk Le Saux took and evidently it paid off.

4 – Thierry Henry – Arsenal

When Arsenal’s record goalscorer Thierry Henry left for Barcelona in 2007, after eight years, 245 appearances and 174 goals, a huge part of his heart remained in north London.

So in some ways it was no surprise when five years later he returned to train with the team, and, inevitably, play for them again. Henry celebrates after scoring the winner on his return to Arsenal.

By then Henry was playing for MLS side New York Red Bulls, and during their 2012 off-season, he trained with the Gunners to keep in shape.

But when they suffered an injury crisis, manager Arsene Wenger looked to his former talisman and he signed a two-month loan deal. ‘King’ Henry was back.

He made four appearances and scored twice; the first came in his debut when he scored the winner goal in an FA Cup tie against Leeds.

His last ever Gunners goal came in his final match under Wenger – again, the winner, in injury time for a 2-1 triumph at Sunderland. No wonder there is a statue of him outside the Emirates Stadium.

Henry is now Belgium’s assistant manager and a pundit on Sky Sports. Many Arsenal fans would love to see him succeed Wenger as manager one day. Is another hero’s return too much to ask for?

3 – Ian Rush – Liverpool

Ian Rush’s 346 goals in two spells at Liverpool make him the club’s all-time record goalscorer. At his peak in the 1980s, there was no-one to rival him in English football. Ian rush celebrates scoring at Wembley for Liverpool.

Having won four league titles and two European Cups in six years with the Reds, in 1987 Rush left to join Serie A giants Juventus. It did not go well, with just seven goals in 29 appearances for the Italians.

Loaned back to Liverpool for the second year of his Juventus contract, Rush’s Midas touch returned, as he scored 30 goals in 42 matches.

A permanent return home was just a matter of time, and the Welsh striker spent another eight seasons at Anfield, making 245 more appearances and adding a further 90 goals. During this time he also won another league title, two FA Cups and became their record goalscorer.

A legend? Unquestionably.

2 – Didier Drogba – Chelsea

Didier Drogba was not just a legend as a player; over two spells at Chelsea, he helped change the history of his club.

His first spell, after joining from Marseille in 2004, saw Chelsea win their first league title in 50 years, in his debut season.

Another Premier League title followed the next year, setting up a glorious era in which he became the first ever player to score in four different FA Cup finals, as well as the first African player to score 100 Premier League goals. But nothing compared to how he signed off his first stint at the club.

His 88th minute equaliser in the 2012 Champions League final against Bayern Munich, in Munich, took the game to extra time and then penalties. And who scored the winner? Drogba, of course.Drogba celebrates scoring the winning goal in the Champions League final.

When he left that summer to join Chinese league side Shanghai Shenhua, after eight years, 226 appearances, 100 goals and eight trophies, a fan poll by Chelsea’s official club magazine saw the Ivorian named as the club’s best-ever player.

Supporters probably thought they would never see his like again. They were wrong.

Drogba’s stint in China was short-lived, and soon he was playing for Galatasaray in Turkey, where he added the 2013 Turkish Super Cup to his medal collection.

The following year, he was back at the Bridge, signing a one-year contract for manager Jose Mourinho – like Drogba, enjoying his second spell at Chelsea.

Drogba managed four more goal in 28 appearances, before announcing that the final game of the season against Sunderland would be his last for the club.

After half an hour, he had to come off injured, but rather than limping off, he was chaired off the field by his team-mates. Now that’s a stylish exit.

The success Drogba enjoyed in his first spell at Chelsea meant that coming back for a second time he had to be as good, if not better than he was previously. Undoubtedly, he was a good playing an integral part in saving Chelsea’s season and thats why he is second.

1 – Paul Scholes – Manchester United

An increasingly rare one-club man, Paul Scholes’ 466 appearances for Manchester United over 17 years make him one of the modern greats.

In his testimonial match in August 2011, the midfielder signed off with a 25-yard finish, showing that even though he was retiring, he had still not lost his touch and he could have played on for a while yet. But no-one expected that he would actually do so.

Five months later, with United going through an uncharacteristic rough patch, he was back, making his ‘second debut’ by coming on to score in the Manchester derby, and also finding the net in his first start second time around. Scholes makes his second debut for United in a Manchester derby.

He was persuaded to sign another one year contract extension, keeping him at United until the end of the following season, and retired for good at the end of the 2012-13 season – fittingly, picking up a yellow card in his farewell match. Well, he never was much of a tackler…

His total of 25 major trophies makes him the most decorated English footballer of all time, and he is now co-owner of Salford City FC, a coach at United and a pundit on BT Sport.

The fact that Scholes completely retired from football before returning to top level football looking fitter than ever, makes his comeback the greatest of all.

Wheelchair racer Lawson insists his best is yet to come

After a training crash which left him paralysed, motocross racer Simon Lawson admits he struggled with a “void” that needed to be filled.

The Cumbrian found a fresh outlet for his competitive nature in endurance wheelchair racing, and was delighted to be selected by Team GB for this year’s Rio Paralympics.

“It feel like it’s definitely been my best year to date,” he  told me. “I’ve set new personal best times, plus being selected to represent our country in the Paralympics was a massive highlight.”

“Wheelchair racing was the sport I chose to fill that void in my life, and so far things are going great”

Lawson, 34, finished 14th in the men’s marathon in the T53 class (for athletes with full use of their arms but limited trunk and lower body movement) in Brazil.

He followed that up with races in Berlin, Chicago, Scotland and New York – in the famous Big Apple marathon, he crossed the line in sixth place.

“New York came at the end of a very busy six-week period, and I think it has got to be one of my best results of the year.

“I didn’t win and it wasn’t my fastest time, but I exceeded my expectations in that race and I managed to get my best position against the best athletes in the world.”

“Berlin was also a good race, finishing sixth again but only six seconds behind the winner and Rio Paralympics gold medalist Marcel Hug. So I think I proved to myself and the other athletes what I was capable of.”

‘Hard to let go’
simon-lawson-motorcross

Lawson competed at national level in motocross before an accident in 2001 left him paralysed from the chest down.

“It’s never easy leaving anything you love doing. I obviously had no choice but to quit motocross because of my injury, but it still was hard to let that go,” he admits.

“Wheelchair racing was the sport I chose to fill that void in my life, and so far things are going great.”

His job at Jack Horseman Motorcycles in Carlisle keeps up his connection with two-wheeled machines, but it’s his three-wheeled racing chair that has taken him to the highest level of disability sport.

Personal parade

After that impressive 14th place finish in Rio, Lawson was excited to take part in the Olympic and Paralympic celebration in Manchester.

But he was even more thrilled when he discovered that the people of his hometown Mayport had organised a street parade to mark his return from Brazil.

“That truly was amazing, I was blown away by the parade! They closed off the main street and let the local schools have the morning off to come and cheer for me. What a reception.

“It was even more special than the Team GB parade in Manchester because this was local and personal and just for me.

“I couldn’t believe how many people turned out and supported me. It will be a moment I will remember for the rest of my life.”

Pride

Of course, taking part in the Team GB event was, Lawson stresses, another very special day.

“It was such an honour to be part of it. Parading through the streets of Manchester with thousands of people cheering and waving GB flags.

“I aim to be at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games and hopefully this time bring home a medal”

“It gave me a massive sense of pride and also a lot of motivation to continue in my sport and represent my country again.”

Now that the racing season is over for the wheelchair racer, you would think that he deserves some off time and a break from the sport before the tough training regime starts again next year. Wrong.

Lawson said: “I’ve had a short break from training and racing, but now I’m starting my winter training programme to get ready for 2017. I’m aiming to work on my weaknesses and develop my strengths.”

Funding

Despite the progress he has made in 2016, Lawson didn’t do enough to keep his lottery funding for 2017.

He admits it is a blow, and knows that being self-funded next season will be tough. But he sees it as “extra motivation” to prove people wrong and is determined to get good results and use the prize money to help out with his costs.

“I plan to compete in the Abbott World Major marathon series, races in Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York, plus some track races and races in this country between the major events.

“I aim to be at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games and hopefully this time bring home a medal.”

You can follow Simon Lawson on Twitter @_SL74. Image courtesy of timeandstar.co.uk

Team-mates, not mates

In everyday life, there will be people we come across and have to work alongside that we will not get along with. Sport is the same, it happens, and when it does it’s often broadcast on TV for the world to see.

From fights on the football pitch in front of thousands of fans, to bitter feuds on and off the racing track and widely-publicised affairs, sportspeople often provide added drama for fans to lap up.

We look at five of the best (worst?) feuds between sporting team-mates.

5. Eyal Berkovic v John Hartson

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Training ground bust-ups are usually kept in-house and dealt with swiftly and discretely by the club in question.

But when West Ham’s Eyal Berkovic reacted badly to a tackle by big John Hartson by punching the Scotsman in the leg. John Hartson took matters into his own feet, so to speak, and delivered a kick an MMA fighter would be proud of to the head of Berkovic, sending him back down to the ground.

As the incident was caught on camera and shared for the world to see, the FA were able to take action against the Welsh striker and charge him – the first player to be punished for misconduct in a training ground indecent.

4. Lee Bowyer v Keiron Dyer

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Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer decided the best place to scrap about the latter not passing the ball was in front of 50,000 fans at St. James’ Park while they were losing 3-0 to Aston Villa.

It took Villa captain Gareth Barry, aided by Newcastle’s Stephen Carr, to break the pair up as they traded punches in the middle of the pitch.

Both of the England internationals were subsequently red carded by the referee and trooped off with ripped shirts. With Stephen Taylor sent off earlier in the game, it left the hosts with just nine men.

The TV cameras caught a brilliant shot of the two fighters sitting either side of the fuming Magpies boss Graeme Souness like naughty school kids.

On top of the automatic three-game ban for seeing red, Bowyer was additionally fined £30,00 and given an additional three-game ban and he was further punished by Newcastle for throwing the first punch as they fined him six weeks wages.

No.3 Wayne Bridge v John Terry

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Footballers are infamous for their womanising ways, but not many make the mistake of cheating with the partner of a team-mate.

However, that’s exactly what Chelsea skipper John Terry did with Vanessa Perroncel after she and Wayne Bridge split up.

Although the couple weren’t technically an item anymore, Terry’s conduct damaged his career with both the Blues and England.

The defender used a super-injunction to try and stop the news from coming out, but it was lifted by the courts and the newspapers jumped at the opportunity to carry lurid details of his affair.

Bridge left the club and joined Manchester City, in 2010, and City beat Chelsea in the first home defeat of the season.

But the headlines were made before the game had kicked off as because Bridge refused to acknowledge England team-mate Terry in the routine pre-match handshakes.

Bridge subsequently moved to West Ham but again refused to shake Terry’s hand when they played Chelsea.

No.2 Bill Romanowski v Marcus Williams

The NFL is known for its tough players and hard-hitting tackles, but in 2003 Oakland Raiders line-backer Bill Romanowski ended team-mate Marcus Williams’ career by removing his helmet and punching him in the face for “holding him in a drill”.

Williams sued Romanowski for battery, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The assault left him with a broken eye socket, concussion, double vision, and – he claimed in his lawsuit – depression and memory issues.

Two years after the incident, the case was settled, with Romanowski ordered to pay $40,000 in medical expenses and $300,000 in damages to Williams.

As this incident took place in training there isn’t any official footage of the career ending punch, but here is a clip of the tough tackler breaking an opponent’s jaw:

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No.1 Lewis Hamilton v Nico Rosberg

Formula One, described as an ‘individual’ team sport, has brought fans some of the most entertaining feuds between team-mates.

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have been together at Mercedes since the 2013 season and have provided their fair share of dramatic incidents.

Their rivalry began at the Bahrain GP in 2012, when Rosberg was referred to the stewards for driving Hamilton – then with McLaren – off the track as he defended his racing line.

The following year at the Malaysian GP, Hamilton earned his first victory for his new team Mercedes. This was aided by team orders to Rosberg who was told to “Hold station behind in fourth” to allow his team-mate to win.

After the race, Hamilton said “If I’m honest, I feel Nico should be standing here.”

In 2014, another three incidents between the two drivers fuelled the feud. First, Rosberg’s dubious qualifying crash in Monaco stopped Hamilton from setting a faster lap time.

In Hungary, Hamilton ignoring team orders to let Rosberg overtake him, and in Belgium, Hamilton accused Rosberg of deliberately colliding with him, resulting in a puncture.

More chapters have been added to the feud between the former karting buddies this season.

At the Spanish Grand Prix, the pair were so intent on outdoing each other at the start that they collided and both crashed out.

The Canadian GP saw Hamilton start aggressively, trying to bully Rosberg out of the way. As Hamilton barged through he made contact with Rosberg’s car and forced him on to the grass which resulted in the German only finishing fifth while the British driver went on to win.

The most recent spat in the on-going rivalry came in Austria, with the Mercedes duo on the final lap and on course for a first and second place.

But when Hamilton decided to make a late bid for victory, Rosberg was not in the mood to let him and tried to nudge Hamilton out the way. In doing so, the German was handed a penalty, surrendering the lead and a podium finish as he subsequently finished in fourth place.

He may get the last laugh this season, though, with time running out for Hamilton to overhaul him in the race for the drivers’ championship.

Four for the price of one in Racketlon

Most of us think we’re doing pretty well if we get to grips with one sport, never mind four.

But Oliver Oxland is heading to Germany for a World Championships where his talent for hand-eye co-ordination will be crucial in a quartet of disciplines.

Six years ago, Oxland (pictured above) began playing Racketlon competitively, after reaching the final in his debut competition, but what is it exactly?

Racketlon is a combination of the four racket sports, table tennis, tennis, badminton and squash.

It involves competitors playing each other in all four, and the winner is determined by who scores the most points over the course of four sets.

Titles

The sport has only been around since early 2000s in the UK where it has a niche following.

It was first recognised in Scandinavia in the mid 1980s and is growing in popularity all over the world.

Denmark’s Jesper Ratzer is the man to beat, having won the world title no less than six times.

Even last year, when there wasn’t a World Championships, Ratzer won the next best thing – taking the European title in Prague.

The previous year, 2014, the World Championships were held in the UK at the Surrey Sports Centre where – yes, you guess it – Ratzer triumphed.

Expectation

Having almost required an operation on a recurring wrist injury, Oxland, 29, is looking forward to the World Championships after his last tournament at Surrey Sports Park saw him reach the semi-finals.

“It’s hard to say, in terms of my expectations in Germany, a lot depends on the draw really, if I get a good one then I could go far, but if I get a really tough draw then I think it could be quite hard.

“I’ve just got to hope luck is on my side and that it takes me far, I think I will do well enough.”

Let’s hope he doesn’t come up against Mr Ratzer too early on…

Get involved

With four individual sports to be played, it’s hard to be the same level in each of them, and Oxland has worked hard at squash in order to improve his game.

“Tennis is my number one sport, table tennis is number two. I’ve played both since about seven years old, so they’re my main ones.”

“In terms of the other two, I would say I’m slightly better at squash because I have improved my game a lot, but the rallies can last a very long time and it can become very physically demanding.”

The world championships in Germany begin on the November 24th and can be followed on Twitter at @Ukracketlon, their website is racketlon.co.uk and you can follow Oliver at @oxoflow.

If Racketlon sounds like a sport you’d like to get involved in, there are weekly Sunday sessions at Redbridge Sports Centre where you can train and improve your game, with experienced players. The sessions are £5 and everyone is welcome.