All posts by Michael Newell

F1 2017 season preview

The new Formula 1 season kicks off in Australia this weekend without a defending champion for the first time since 1994 following the shock retirement of Nico Rosberg after clinching the 2016 drivers’ title. 

The announcement came just five days after the German was crowned F1 champion for the first time, bringing chaos to the ‘driver merry-go-round’ over the winter break.

The new season is also notable for the most substantial raft regulation changes since the introduction of the hybrid turbo engine in 2014, with cars set to lap five seconds faster than last season’s models.

The aim is to improve the F1 spectacle. Truth be told, 2016 was not the most exciting campaign, but there is hope – albeit not shared by all parties – that these changes will lead to  more overtaking and more exciting races.

Driver line-ups

Months of speculation followed Rosberg’s retirement before Mercedes finally announced Valtteri Bottas as his replacement. The Finn, 27, earned his seat with the champions after impressing at Williams

In what was likely the shortest ever retirement, Felipe Massa returned to Williams in Bottas’ place, having originally been replaced by now team-mate and F3 champion Lance Stroll. Confusing, right?

Other changes see Belgium’s Stoffel Vandoorne replace Jenson Button at McLaren, with the Briton taking a sabbatical, although whether he’ll return to F1 is debatable.

Vandoorne made his debut for McLaren last year, replacing Fernando Alonso for the Bahrain GP. He became only the second reserve driver to finish in a points-scoring position on their debut after Sebastian Vettel, coming 10th.

Former Mercedes reserve driver Pascal Wehrlien joins Sauber after missing out on the Mercedes race seat to Bottas. Wehrlien was at Manor Racing last year, in a deal where they received Mercedes engines.

The 22-year-old German secured the team’s only point of the year in Australia, and takes the seat of Brazilian Felipe Nasr after he was released by Sauber.

Kevin Magnussen joins Romain Grosjean at Haas Racing after he lost his place at Renault to Nico Hulkenburg, who in-turn has had his seat at Force India filled by Esteban Ocon who drove the second half of 2016 at Manor.

Given that Ocon and Vandoorne have had previous experience on the grid, that means 18-year-old Stroll will be the only true ‘rookie’ driver on lining-up at Australia.

So here’s how the team’s line up:

Scuderia Ferrari: 5 Sebastian Vettel (Germany), 7 Kimi Raikkonen (Finland)

Sahara Force India: 11 Sergio Perez (Mexico), 31 Esteban Ocon (France)

Haas: 8 Romain Grosjean (France), 20 Kevin Magnussen (Denmark)

McLaren Honda: 2 Stoffel Vandoorne (Belgium), 14 Fernando Alonso (Spain)

Mercedes AMG Petronas: 44 Lewis Hamilton (Great Britain), 77 Valterri Bottas (Finland)

Red Bull: 3 Daniel Ricciardo (Australia), 33 Max Verstappen (Holland)

Renault: 27 Nico Huklkenberg (Germany), 30 Jolyon Palmer (Great Britain)

Sauber: 9 Marcus Ericsson (Sweden), 94 Pascal Wehrlein (German)

Scuderia Toro Rosso: 26 Daniil Kvyat (Russia), 55 Carlos Sainz Jr (Spain)

Williams Martini: 18 Lance Stroll (Canada), 19 Felipe Massa (Brazil)

Race calendar 

The 2017 schedule drops back to 20 races, with the German GP axed after F1 supreme Bernie Ecclestone (now deposed from power) failed to reach an agreement with the finically-stricken Hockenheim and Nurburgring circuits.

The race in Baku has been moved back a week to avoid clashing with the Le Mans 24hr race, having also had its title changed from the European to the Azerbaijan GP. Other changes see the British and Hungarian Grand Prix move back a week to fill the gap left by the German race.

March 26 – Australian Grand Prix

April 9 – Chinese Grand Prix

April 16 – Bahrain Grand Prix

April 30 – Russian Grand Prix

May 14 – Spanish Grand Prix

May 28 – Monaco Grand Prix

June 11 – Canadian Grand Prix

June 25 – Azerbaijan Grand Prix

July 9 – Austrian Grand Prix

July 16 – British Grand Prix

July 30 – Hungarian Grand Prix

August 27 – Belgian Grand Prix

September 3 – Italian Grand Prix

September 17 – Singapore Grand Prix

October 1 – Malaysian Grand Prix

October 8 – Japanese Grand Prix

October 22 – United States Grand Prix

October 29 – Mexican Grand Prix

November 12 – Brazilian Grand Prix

November 26 – Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Regulation changes

The biggest complaint over the past few seasons from drivers and fans alike has been the inability to constantly push the cars to the limit, due to tyre degradation and fuel-saving.

The new regulations have been designed to drastically increase speed by increasing downforce from both aerodynamic and mechanical methods, in an attempt to better the spectacle and reduce the difficulty of overtaking.

Opinions on the changes have been mixed, however. They have indeed made the cars quicker, but it’s yet to be seen whether we’ll see more overtaking.

There are also some loopholes being closed this season with respect wet-race starts and the 75 grid place penalties we have seen previously.

Technical changes

Cars have had 20cm added to their width, bringing them up to 2m and matching what they were in 1997.

The width of the tyres is also increased by 20% to increase mechanical downforce and in an attempt to better balance where grip comes from, not just relying on aerodynamic downforce – although this has also been improved.

Pirelli have also been given a brief to decrease tyre degradation, allowing drivers to push harder for longer. The downside of these changes is that the increase on drag which could increase the ‘dirty air’ the car produces – one of the main reasons why overtaking is so difficult.

Fuel consumption will also be affected. The more drag, the more fuel consumption, meaning that the cars’ minimum weight limit and fuel consumption have both been increased.

Changes to the front wing, bargeboards, rear wing and diffuser has given more scope to designers to generate increased aerodynamic downforce, again increasing speeds.

Rear and front wings have also been widened by 15 and 20cm respectively, allowing more room for aerodynamic features on the wings. The nose of the car has also been lengthened by 20cm, whilst the rear wing is 15cm lower and mounted 20cm further back, at more of an angle.

Bargeboards will also be returned to pre-2009 prominence, after years of being restricted, again allowing designers to be more creative as they seek greater downforce.

The same applies to the rear diffuser – they are taller, wider and moved further forward, although the regulations here are only slightly more lax in an attempt to keep dirty air to a reasonable level.

Rule changes

Last year’s Belgian GP saw Hamilton take a ‘tactical’ grid penalty of a record 75 places, after reliability issues earlier in the season forced him into a fifth engine change.

Given that this had already dropped him to rear of the grid, Mercedes used the opportunity to change other components, knowing that he could not drop any further back. This season, teams will be unable to ‘stack’ penalties at one race, meaning that individual penalties must be served at individual GPs.

Wet races which start behind the safety car will now having a standing start once the track has been deemed safe. If a race is suspended due to wet weather, however, then it will resume using the traditional rolling safety-car start.

What happened in pre-season testing?

It was Ferrari who set the pace at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest lap of 1:18.634, ahead of team-mate Sebastian Vettel.

Mercedes followed close behind while also being the only team to complete over 1,000 laps, showing they have the reliability to match the speed. It all points towards a fierce competition between Ferrari and Mercedes.

Red Bull and Williams are also looking good, so it seems unlikely to be another one-horse race as it has been for Mercedes over the past few years.

There has been talk that Ferrari were ‘sandbagging’ and could go ever faster. Hamilton has suggested that they are favourites for victory in Melbourne, although Vettel has refuted this.

Despite the team’s speed, it would be unwise for Ferrari fans to get too excited. Last year they also showed similar pre-season pace but failed to win a race in 2016, although another winless season would be surprising.

Mercedes should also benefit from what appears to be a much healthier working relationship between Hamilton and Bottas. This should allow the team to focus solely on on-track matters instead of having to sort out feuding team-mates.

Red Bull, tipped to be Mercedes main challengers, have also shown good pace, alongside Williams who could be the dark horses. Massa was followed by Max Verstappen as the fastest cars behind Ferrari and Mercedes. The two teams will be hopeful of chalking up a few wins between them.

The midfield appears to be very tight – just six-tenths of a second separated Carlos Sainz of Toro Rosso in 7th place down to Kevin Magnussen for Haas in 15th.

McLaren are the team who are once again suffering. Despite the car performing well aerodynamically, there are still big issues with the power unit supplied by Honda.

“No power and no reliability,” is how an increasingly frustrated Fernando Alonso described the car.

Who will win the drivers’ title?

Despite Ferrari’s pace in testing, Hamilton remains a clear favourite to take his fourth title with odds of 11/10 followed by Vettel (10/3).

Hamilton will certainly fired up after the disappointment of narrowly missing out in his fierce battle with Rosberg.

Bottas is not there to make up the numbers, however, and is aiming to give Hamilton a tough time. However, the general consensus is that challenging for the title in his first season at Mercedes will be a step too far for the Finn.

Vettel is widely tipped to be Hamilton’s biggest challenger, and it is hard to argue against that. With Ferrari looking improved this term, it is almost a certainty that the German will be challenging for wins on a more regular basis.

Despite the criticism he occasionally faces regarding his race-craft, Vettel, the most successful driver currently on the grid, has always challenged at the top from pretty much the beginning of his career, and there’s no doubting his speed.

Kimi Raikkonen should also not be overlooked. Perhaps he doesn’t have the raw pace of Vettel, but you can be sure that he will go quietly about his business and perhaps sneak one or two wins.

The team with the most exciting line-up has to be Red Bull. The rivalry between Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, two young, fired-up and immensely talented drivers, could reach the intensity of Rosberg v Hamilton.

Red Bull should never be written off either. They have consistently produced cars capable of victory over the last eight years, although some were expecting them to show a little more pace in pre-season.

Williams, meanwhile, are definitely the dark horses. They have shown impressive pace, clocking faster times than Red Bull, and the return of Paddy Lowe as chief technical officer appears to have helped them to step to the next level.

In the last few seasons, they have been the best-of-the-rest without winning a race. This year, securing their first victory since Pastor Maldonado won the Spanish GP in 2012 is not unlikely.

Dulwich Hamlet FC – London’s hipster football club

Dulwich Hamlet are a small south London club playing in the Isthmian League Premier Division.

But in recent seasons, the Hamlet’s popularity has grown out of all proportion to their relatively lowly status in  English football’s seventh tier.

But why do crowds of 2,000-plus regularly flock to Champion Hill Stadium? Are more supporters rejecting the increasingly corporate world of the professional game?

In an Elephant Sport-Artefact collaboration, Mike Newell, Lucas Chomicki, Crystal Davis and Jeremie Crystal went to watch Dulwich Hamlet face Merstham to ask fans and find out for themselves what make Dulwich FC so special.

 

 

‘Too dangerous’ – fans fear 2018 World Cup trouble

Fears are growing that the 2018 World Cup Finals in Russia will be marred by hooliganism.

Hardcore thugs from Russia went on the rampage during Euro 2016, with England fans the victims in Marseille.

One Russian MP even went so far recently as to suggest that fighting among supporters should be a sport in itself.

With such worrying pronouncements coming from establishment figures, will fearful English football fans opt to stay away from the 2018 tournament?

Crystal Davis, Mike Newell and Lucas Chomicki spoke to supporters on their way to the London Stadium for the West Ham v Chelsea match in the Premier League to gauge their opinions.

 

david-haye-vs-tony-bellew

Hype=PPVs in embarrassing Haye v Bellew build-up

David Haye and Tony Bellew, two pretty average boxers who have somehow found themselves competing in the most anticipated fight of 2017 so far.

Okay, that is slightly harsh on Haye, who back in his heyday (excuse the pun) was a good fighter. However, even if he’d lived up to his potential he would have never gone down as a great fighter.

Merseyside-born Bellew also has a decent record but it seems that after his acting role in the 2015 film Creed, he’s happy just to get up in front of the cameras to bring the attention on himself.

The fact that their non-title fight at the O2 Arena has got attracted so much attention is a sign that boxing and the broadcasters who televise it have got their priorities wrong. Too much effort is now put into hyping up a fight – just for it to be one big let down.

Disappointed

Let’s look back at the eagerly anticipated (and long overdue) Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao fight in 2014. It generated $400m through pay-per-view, a record in boxing, but turned out to be complete letdown after months of hype and build-up.

Both of boxers looked too scared to lose, there was no risk-taking, just a lot of defensive boxing and plenty of disappointed fans.

Admittedly, there is pleasure you can take from the pre-fight mind games. It’s part of playing the game – getting the upper hand before you step into the ring.

However, it is getting way over the top now, to the point where it is not even fun to watch anymore.

And I would expect another letdown when Haye and Bellew finally come face-to-face in the ring. It feels like all the effort from both sides has been put into promoting the fight – with lots TV coverage building up an picture of the two hating each other.

To be honest, the two boxers have done a pretty good job of cranking up the animosity. There has been shouting, insults, a bit of pushing and even an attempted punch thrown by Londoner Haye. It seems like they really do hate each, right?

Expectations

Perhaps they really do hate each other, although there are many people out there like myself who see it all as a bit of manufactured aggro, with Sky orchestrating it all to increase their PPV numbers.

It’s not the first time and it certainly will not be the last time we see Sky come up with ridiculously over-dramatic campaigns for this reason.

But does this really benefit the spectacle everyone wants to see – the actual fight. With all the trash talk, the promises of harm being inflicted, can Haye and Bellew actually live up to the expectations that have now been put on them?

You would think that after having to talk such a hard game that the biggest thing on the two’s mind is to avoid an embarrassing early round knock-out.

Is the fight just going to be another Maywhether-Pacquiao borefest, with the whole thing is forgotten in a matter of weeks?

Stirring up

And it’s not just boxing. So many sporting events are hyped up with great expectations only to end in a disappointing spectacle.

It’s not rare to see a match such as Arsenal v Manchester United end in a dull stalemate, after hours of build-up.

Formula 1 is another example. Last year saw an extremely dull season of racing, with Sky seemingly putting more effort into stirring up off-the-track issues betweens Mercedes team-mates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

Okay, Sky do not make the rules in F1, but it gets pretty tiresome watching manufactured drama away from where we want it to be; on-the-track, on-the-field-of-play, not off it.

So Sky are not entirely to blame when the spectacle is not what we expect it to be, but they are just making things worse. And at times, as with the Haye v Bellew fight, it’s becomes embarrassing.

It’s time to get back to basics and start focusing about what we are all really want to see – the sport.

vegan diet

Being a vegan bodybuilder

Naturally when you think about bodybuilding, you think about protein, and when you think about protein, you think about meat.

However, you may be surprised to find there are actually a lot of champion bodybuilders, such as Kenneth Williams, Robert Hazeley and Patrick Baboumian who live on a vegan diet.

Amateur bodybuilder Kiran Dehal does not feature in competitions but has gone from 63kg to 93kg in three years, having also implemented a vegan diet into his regime one year ago.

I talk to the 20-year-old about the decision behind becoming vegan and how he has successfully adopted veganism into his lifestyle.

Why did you become a bodybuilder?

I was originally introduced to bodybuilding by a friend I went to school with when I was 17. He was very interested in it and invited me to train with him at a nearby bodybuilding gym. From these sessions I developed an appreciation which turned into a dedication then into a love for the process of bodybuilding.

 What was your thinking behind turning vegan as a bodybuilder?

Looking at my diet I realised that the proteins I was getting in my diet also came with a lot of fat.

I found it was very difficult getting the toned and cut physique that I wanted.

After doing some research on vegan diets, and athletes who have followed them and thrived, I made the decision to transition into the lifestyle.

Ethical and environmental aspects also came into play through time but the main reason was health and cutting some fat from my diet.

 Were there any differences you noticed when you became vegan?

Due to the fact that I was paying much more attention to what I was eating and was cautious to the potential negative effects of drastically changing my diet, I only gained positive effects from this.

I had more energy, less bloating and felt fresh and healthy, keeping my muscle and becoming more cut.

 Is it any harder now getting the required protein you need to build muscle?

I have a big appetite and tailored my diet to keep a good amount of protein in it, so no.

I did my research into meals that would be suitable for me to eat and I now know what sort of foods I should be looking to include in my diet.

 What do you now eat daily to get sufficient protein?

My diet now contains more beans, lentils and lagooms, I have switched my whey protein for a sunflower protein, although the taste isn’t as pleasant.

I’m cooking more of my own food so I know exactly what’s in it and keeping to a strict regimented diet.

 Have you noticed any difference in the speed you build muscle since you became vegan?

I now find it much easier to cut than bulk which has both its benefits and setbacks, but overall I’m happy with the results.

What advice would you have for any bodybuilders who are thinking about becoming vegan?

Commit to it, do your research, plan ahead so you can be prepared for what’s about to come.

It won’t be too long until you don’t even notice being vegan and it all just comes naturally to you!

Being AP

Review – Being AP

“The thing is about records is that they always get broken. I want to make it as hard as possible for those who are going to break them.”

These are the words of a jockey who has saddled 4,358 winners and has been jumps champion for 20 consecutive years.

A stubborn, obsessive and perhaps a selfish character, though not the most thrilling of personalities, there is no doubt at that Tony McCoy, better known as AP, is a born winner.

When director Anthony Wonke started making his BBC documentary ‘Being AP’, he was expected to follow McCoy through another record-breaking campaign as the Northern Irishman aimed to complete his dream of 300 winners in one season.

However, in what ended up being the final season of his career in 2015, it is soon clear that it is not possible. With McCoy then at the age of 40, injuries are taking their toll and a realisation that the end is near.

Injuries

We see a man who regards retirement as ‘the end of your life’ facing up to that very prospect, and musing on the demands of being devoted to racing at the very highest level.

“McCoy fears retirement more than anything else, more than the most serious of injury and perhaps even death”

“You can win the biggest horse races in the country and then the next race race you can be in the back of an ambulance. So you can go from a very huge high, to a very sad low very quickly,” AP reflects, as he reels off the list of injuries he has amassed over his career, from dislocated shoulders to broken ribs.

“I am not the one that is being weak, it is a part of the body that is weak. I wanted to bang my shoulder off the wall to punish it,” says McCoy, admitting he  deliberately ignored his injuries as a way of trying to overcome them.

Having seen her husband amass all these wounds, McCoy’s remarkably tolerant wife Chanelle is clearly keen to see her husband consider retirement and end his career in one piece.

Her role in this film is particularly interesting, not one you imagine that was originally planned, but adds another dimension.

Obsession

“Why on earth would any year be a good year to call it a day?” McCoy responds to his wife as they have a sincere yet awkward talk over dinner about his future.

His stubbornness is clear – McCoy fears retirement more than anything else, more than the most serious of injury and perhaps even death.

It is an eye-opening scene. The effect of such determination and obsession on family life, is at times obvious, but never more than here.

Whilst Chanelle worries about her husband, he continues to act oblivious to any danger, growing frustrated and awkward when questioned on life after riding.

It is an interesting insight on how dedication can affect others around you.

Stubborn

McCoy’s reluctant decision to retire comes in the film’s most interesting and insightful scene, as his riding manager Dave Roberts is called to a surprise meeting with AP and his wife.

“Ironically, moving away from the ever-present danger of racing into the safer world of retirement, takes McCoy out his comfort zone”

As the three talk about moments from his career and his attitude to riding, his wife describing AP’s attitude towards trying to ignore the reality of life: “You were so stubborn, I’m not listening to my collarbone, so what if it is shattered, my lung is punctured, my ribs are broken, I will continue riding.”

AP is still seemingly unsatisfied and unable to get over any failures, even just before he reveals his plan to retire after riding 200 winners for the season.

“That really mentally messed with my head. Broke my heart that did, to think that I was actually going to ride 300 winners, and then, I’m not going to ride 300 winners. The thought of it make me want to cry.”

Frustration

Despite saying he was “relieved”, there is clearly still frustration and sadness when talking to his commercial manager about possibilities after his career.

The look on his face after the suggestion that he could be the face of a peanut butter campaign is not that of someone who is looking forward to life after racing.

The film itself is not perfect. Running at 96 minutes, there are parts which feel unnecessary and over-produced, trying too hard to create drama which at times comes off as unnatural, though perhaps this is down to McCoy’s personality.

As such a driven winner, he is someone who struggles to look back on his life, when all he wants to do is think about the next triumph.

The director got lucky with his subject here, though. A film which was meant to simply be about winning is in fact, an incredible though sometimes painful insight of the realisation that the natural-born winner will not be able to win for much longer.

Ironically, moving away from the ever-present danger of racing into the safer world of retirement, takes McCoy out his comfort zone which makes everything a bit more interesting.

Seven of the best comebacks in sports history

Trailing Atlanta by 25 points in the third quarter you could have been forgiven for switching off the TV as a New England Patriots fan watching the 2017 Super Bowl.

However, lead by 39-year-old Tom Brady, the Patriots launched a stunning comeback, described as the best in Super Bowl history, with Brady becoming the first quarter-back to win five Super Bowl rings.

With a great comeback always comes the turning point; Julian Edelman’s phenomenal catch for a first down, under pressure from three Atlanta players, with two minutes left on the clock proved to be exactly that, allowing James White to level the game on a two-yard run.

After that Super Bowl thriller, here are seven more of the best comebacks in sport, some you may of heard of, others maybe not.

 

Lasse Viren – 10,000m – 1972 Olympic Games, Munich

Lasse Viren
@JO_Montreal76

On the 12th lap, Finish runner Lasse Viren was tripped by Emiel Puttemans sending him sprawling to the surface, with Moroccan runner Mohamed Gammoudi also getting caught up in the aftermath.

Gammoudi was down and out, picking up an injury in the fall. Viren however, was straight back to his feet with a 20m deficit to make up and 12 and a half laps to go.

That might not sound like too much, but in an endurance race making up gaps that size is one of the toughest tasks. Not only do you need to have enough energy to get to the end of the race, you need to find the speed to catch up to the rest of the pack.

Incredibly, it only took at matter of seconds for Viren to find himself back in contention, with the crowd cheering him on as he recovered back to the leading pack.

Viren then produced an unprecedented last 600m to take the gold medal in a world record time – one which still stands as the fastest ever 10,000m at the Olympiastadion in Munich.

 

England – 1981 Ashes, Third Test – Headingley

England, Ashes 1981
@CricketopiaCom

With Australia up 1-0 after two Tests, the 1981 Ashes headed to Headingley, where Australia looked set to take a 2-0 series lead.

In a match where England were forced to follow one after the first innings, a victory was so unlikely that England had odds of 500-1 to win.

However, Ian Botham, who just resigned as captain due to poor performances, had other ideas, producing a total of 149 runs, giving England a small lead of 129, forcing the Australians to bat once again.

A lead which you would have expected the Australians to claw back, yet an inspired bowling display the following day from Bob Willis, saw him take eight wickets for 43 runs, as Australia fell for just 111 runs. Suitably fired up, England went on to win the series 3-1.

In what was described as Botham’s Test, it was only the second time in history a team won a test match after being forced to follow on.

 

Nick Faldo – 1996 US Masters – Augusta

Norman and FaldoHaving lead the first three rounds at the 60th US Masters, Greg Norman went into the fourth and final day with a six-shot lead over Britain’s Nick Faldo.

Norman and Faldo were paired together for the closing round, and after seven holes Australian Norman, despite have his lead reduced to four shots, still looked on course for victory.

While Faldo continued a flawless day, Norman who had never won the Masters in 14 attempts, completely collapsed over the next 11 holes, and twice found the water for double bogeys.

Faldo’s score of 67 was the best that day, while Norman’s 78 was one of the worst. It was one of the most astounding comebacks and collapses in golfing history, handing Faldo his third Masters title.

In a great show of sportsmanship, afterwards Faldo and Norman embraced, the Englishman almost seemed more upset for Norman than the Australian himself did.

Faldo told the press afterwards: “I honestly, genuinely feel sorry for him. He’s had a real rough ride today.”

 

Manchester United – 1995/96 Premier League 

Eric Cantona
@ManUtdArchives

In a glittering managerial career that spanned over 39 years, Sir Alex Ferguson was certainly no stranger to a comeback, a trait that defined the teams he managed.

The one that sticks in the memory are the 1999 Champions League Final where injury-time goals from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjær completed a famous treble for United.

Their comeback to win the 1996 Premier League though is one that is overlooked. With Newcastle United 12 points ahead in January, no-one would have bet on on Fergie’s team winning the title.

Going into the season with a young squad and little spending, a 3-1 loss on the opening day to Aston Villa, saw BBC pundit Alan Hansen famously say: “You never win anything with kids.”

Newcastle, meanwhile, had a storming start after a big-spending summer. However a run of fives losses in seven games after January, while United went on a near-perfect run spurred on by the return of Eric Cantona from an eight-month suspension, saw Fergie’s men overhaul them in the title race.

This as well as Ferguson’s mind games prompted a famous quote, or rant, from Magpies manager Kevin Keegan live on Sky Sports, as United went on to win the title by four points.

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Houston Rockets vs San Antonio Spurs – NBA, 2004

Perhaps one of the best one-man comebacks in history, with Houston Rockets 10 points down against San Antonio Spurs in the final quarter, Rockets swingman Tracy McGrady score 13 points in 33 seconds to secure a 81-80 win for the Rockets.

McGrady scored four consecutive three-pointers – one was part of a four-point play – his last one coming 1.7 seconds before the end to secure the victory.

Liverpool, UEFA Champions League Final – Istanbul, 2005

Liverpool fans in Istanbul 2005
@FBAwayDays

Keeper Jerzy Dudek was the hero as Liverpool fought back from 0-3 deficit at half-time to shock the giants of AC Milan, winning the Champions League on penalties in one of the most famous comebacks European Football.

Struggling in the league at the time, the Merseyside outfit produced a number of shocks against European giants, including Juventus and Chelsea, on their way to lifting the club’s fifth Champions League trophy.

Most expected an AC victory, and by the interval Milan fans were already celebrating victory, after Paolo Maldini and a double from Hernan Crespo sent them into half-time with 3-0 lead.

However, a Liverpool team with Steven Gerrard leading them could never be written off, and it was their captain fantastic who headed them back into the game.

Vladimir Smicer was an unlikely hero, really putting pressure on AC after his long-range attempt was fumbled by Dida to bring Liverpool right back into the game, before the outstanding comeback was completed when Xabi Alonso pounced on the rebound from his own penalty which had been saved by Dida.

The Italian side was totally stunned by the comeback, having completely dominated the first half, and despite golden chances to win it, Dudek produced an incredible double save from the shellshocked Andriy Shevchenko to send the game to penalties.

Liverpool’s Polish keeper then replicated Bruce Grobbelaar’s famous “spaghetti legs” to put off Milan’s usually reliable penalty takers and bring the trophy back to Merseyside.

 

Team Oracle USA – America’s Cup 2013

America's Cup 2013The 34th America’s Cup saw challengers Team Emirates New Zealand take an 8-1 lead, just one point away from victory.

That was before the defenders Team Oracle USA brought in British sailor and five-time Olympic medalist Sir Ben Ainsley as a tactician for race six.

Despite this Oracle fell 0-6 behind after eight races, due to penalties they had imposed on the, and by the twelfth race New Zealand just needed one more victory as they led 8-1.

However, with Ainslie’s presence now being felt, Team Oracle were flawless and they won the next eight races to stage an extraordinary comeback to defend the trophy.

The gruelling competition was the longest-running America’s Cup series in history.

Roger Federer

Record eighth Wimbledon win still on for Federer

Not so long ago, the phrase ‘shock grand slam victory’ would never have been used in connection with Roger Federer.

The sublime talents of the Swiss star saw him amass 17 titles at the big four tennis tournaments – Wimbledon and the Australian, French and US Opens.

But he hadn’t won one since Wimbledon 2012 and, at the age of 35, retirement looked more likely than another slam triumph.

But surprise exits for Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic in Melbourne last month helped both Federer and old rival Rafael Nadal reach the final.

Federer beat the Spaniard 6–4, 3–6, 6–1, 3–6, 6–3 to make it slam No.18 – four ahead of Nadal and Pete Sampras.

But was his win simply an unexpected bonus? A lucky last hurrah for possibly the greatest player the men’s game has ever seen?

Underdog

You would be forgiven for thinking that his triumph at the Australian Open will be his last. Surely Federer’s physical abilities are only declining whilst the competition remains as fierce as ever?

“Fast surfaces suit older players, with shorter rallies and more emphasis on serving consistently well – one of Federer’s best attributes”

He could, though, be a dark horse at this year’s Wimbledon, where a record eighth singles title at the famous tournament beckons.

Federer may need a bit of luck again, but he has show that on faster surfaces he is still a formidable foe.

He definitely won’t be the bookies’ favourite in SW19, but that is something that could play into his hands.

Weirdly, the Swiss suits the role of the underdog. An understated player, he has always gone about his business in a quiet, unspectacular but smoothly efficient manner, with an incredible ability to come back from the brink.

Less predictable

Athough Djokovic and Murray are still expected to dominate this year, they faltered in the early rounds in Australia on the new Plexicushion surface, which returned court speeds to that of the early 2000s.

And while Federer not have the legs he used to, he showed he still has intelligence which has made him so deadly across the 19-year span of his career.

Fast surfaces suit older players, with shorter rallies and more emphasis on serving consistently well – one of Federer’s best attributes.

As Wimbledon’s grass courts get harder and more worn as the tournament progresses, they play faster, and the ‘Fed Express’ can still thrive on the green stuff.

Grass is also less predictable, and losses of concentration see upsets and giant-killings happen every year. The hugely experienced Swiss is still seemingly less susceptible to these – and is also capable of throwing a few surprises into his game.

Early exit

What’s fairly certain is that, ahead of Wimbledon, Federer won’t add another French Open crown to his sole victory at Roland Garros in 2009.

“Will the 2017 Australian Open be his last-ever grand slam? I wouldn’t bet on it…”

The clay courts in Paris are much slower and take away the advantage of a good serve, benefitting instead those who can slug it out in long rallies from the baseline.

An early exit there is likely for Federer, as it’s his least-favourite surface, but this will give him more time to prepare for Wimbledon.

Meanwhile, Djokovic, Murray and the rejuvenated Nadal, 30 – who has won a record nine French titles – are expected to go further, and potentially have to slog their way through several long, gruelling contests.

Adding to his grand slam tally is still going to be a big ask for Federer. He turns 36 in August, but is fresh after sitting out the second half of 2016 with the first serious injury of his career.

At 35, he certainly cannot match the speed of Murray or the power of Djokovic. But his speed of thought and grace under pressure mean he is still a threat.

Will the 2017 Australian Open be his last-ever grand slam? I wouldn’t bet on it…

Image @brendamaiy

Time for more clubs to take the FA Cup seriously again

Weakened teams, poor attendances, crazy kick-off times – all featured in the FA Cup third round earlier this month, and threaten to dent its status and traditions once again as we head into the fourth round. 

Perhaps this weekend’s ties will see more clubs deciding to take football’s oldest knockout competition a bit more seriously?

Yet the temptation is clearly there for many managers to rotate, giving fringe players a chance to show what they can do, and saving their stars from fatigue and injuries, whilst keeping their main focus on maintaining their league position.

This weekend presents opportunities for Brentford, Wolves, Wigan and Wycombe to produce major upsets as they face Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Spurs respectively.

Championship side Wolves look to have a decent chance against Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp fielded a vastly changed team at home against Plymouth in the third round and paid the price as the League Two outfit earned themselves a replay, which they only lost 1-0.

Clear sign

Brentford will also be looking to spring a surprise against the Premier League’s pace-setters, and their players will be fired up to do well at Stamford Bridge.

Like Wolves, the Bees occupy the relative safety of mid-table, so if we don’t see anything from them apart from first-choice XIs giving 100% commitment to win their ties then it really will be a clear sign that the FA Cup is no longer what it was it was.

“Howe’s caution was understandable to some extent, but what is the point in having top players if you are not going to push for success with them?”

Bournemouth did their best in the last round to prove this, making 11 changes for their trip to Millwall and failing to even register a shot on target as they went down 3-0 to the League One team.

With the Cherries not threatened by relegation from the top flight, boss Eddie Howe was widely criticised for not given the Cup his best shot. Surely it was worth taking a risk?

Howe admitted: “In hindsight with the result, yes, but though I haven’t been forced, my hands are tied a little bit. We are so stretched, the Premier League is such a demanding league, we feel we need our best players available for selection.”

Mediocre

His caution was, therefore, understandable to some extent. But what is the point in having top players if you are not going to push for success with them?

Bournemouth have Jack Wilshere on loan from Arsenal for the season; why not use his abilities whilst you have him to push for success in the Cup?

Despite all the criticism Bournemouth received, it is a given that this weekend we will see another top-flight team make a similar amount of changes.

Perhaps it will lead to another upset. But what fans of smaller clubs really want to see is their team beating the best an opponent has to offer, not a mediocre second XI whose names are all greeted with a derisory ‘Who?’ when the line-ups are announced.

Maybe the FA should start handing out fines for clubs who make wholesale changes for Cup ties, though this would be tricky to regulate and enforce. Perhaps the prize money on offer should be boosted? It’s currently dwarfed by the riches available in the Premier League – even for finishing bottom of the table.

Financial benefits

But if the big clubs (or any club for that matter) want to field weakened teams in the Cup, they can, so perhaps when it happens the smaller ones should really go for it?

“Will the magic of the Cup still be the same if those upsets really don’t count for much in the scheme of things?”

Of course, no-one can blame Plymouth for seeing a draw at Anfield as the best-possible outcome; half the gate money, plus a full house and the TV cameras at Home Park for the replay. That’s serious money for a League Two club who flirted with going out of business not so long ago.

But part of me still thinks even the likes of Argyle could, in the circumstances, have really taken the game to Liverpool’s assortment of fringe players and kids.

Yes, they earned around £1m from the two ties, but it would have been good to see them muster more than a single shot on target at Anfield to add their admirable defensive display.

Plain unlucky

In the replay, an early goal from Lucas forced Plymouth to start playing, and start playing is exactly what they did, taking the game to the Reds and coming within inches of a stunning equaliser from Jake Jervis with a 12-yard scissor-kick.

Okay, so they still didn’t manage many attempts on goal, but still a lot more than they did at Anfield, where an inexperienced Liverpool side were there for the taking.

Again I don’t want to criticise them too much, and others will argue that they got their tactics spot on because Liverpool do struggle against defensive outfits as we’ve seen in the Premier League. At the end of the day, maybe they were just plain unlucky to lose out.

But let’s hope we see more clubs taking the FA Cup seriously this weekend. If they don’t, the ‘shock’ results will keep coming. But will the magic of the Cup still be the same if those upsets really don’t count for much in the scheme of things?

An awayday experience in Milan

Six years ago, Inter Milan were winning Serie A, the Champions League and Italian Cup while Southampton languished in League One after nearly going bust and being in administration.

So what a thrill it was for Saints fans (including myself) to travel to the San Siro and see them outplay the European giants in the Europa League. If only we hadn’t lost…

Qualifying for Europe adds something special to a season, and a rare chance to watch your team take on the one of the game’s biggest names is something not to be missed.

So when my friends invited on a four-night trip to Milan it was definitely something I had to do – albeit as cheaply as possible.

The first thing needed was a cheap flight, and Ryanair flies to Milan Bergamo, about an hour outside the city. Then came tracking down the most budget accommodation that central Milan had to offer – Queen’s Hostel.

 Packed

Arriving at Stansted to travel out the day before the game, it was surprising to see so many Southampton shirts at the airport – but then I guess everyone had the same idea of looking for bargain flights.

Duomo di Milano – worth a visit

The sense of excitement among the fans was already evident, and made the usual boring slog through security and passport control less of a chore.

The flight itself was packed with Saints supporters, some of who spent the whole journey singing songs whilst the beers kept coming.

This wasn’t your average away trip to Stoke or West Brom – we were heading to Milan to cheer our team on in one of Europe’s most famous stadiums.

The following day, the visiting supporters tended to group around either the San Siro or the clubs and bars of Navigli in the build-up to the game.

The city centre, where there are some spectacular sights such as the Duomo di Milano, is definitely worth a gander but it’s a bit of a tourist trap and better suited to those with budgets slightly bigger than mine.

Of course, as English football fans looking for home comforts, many of the Saints supporters located an English-style pub screening Sky Sports.

Unfortunately, trouble there a few days before meant it was closed to them in the run-up to that evening’s game.

It didn’t dampen spirits too much, however, as 7,500 away fans – around 13 percent of Southampton’s population – generated a real buzz in Milan’s bars and restaurants.

Deflated

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But I ordered a large… pizzas in Milan

Arriving at the San Siro, it felt like a home game at St Mary’s in some respects as everywhere you looked there was Saints fans.

Inter, who have been overshadowed by Juventus in recent years, were in poor form going into the match and struggling to get decent crowds.

The English contingent made up over a quarter of the evening’s overall attendance, and created plenty of noise in the two-thirds empty stadium as Saints dominated the game.

However, the Premier League outfit were left to rue several missed chances as Antonio Candreva popped up with a 67th-minute strike against the run of play.

The hosts hung on for the win, despite the late dismissal of Marcelo Brozovic, and Southampton and their travelling army of fans were left distinctly deflated by the defeat.

But the disappointment was eased by the fact that we had outplayed our illustrious opponents on their own ground, and the night was still young.

Unfortunately, many of the bars we tried were pretty unaffordable while others had closed early to avoid any rowdiness, so the day ended in anti-climax.

Explore

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Sleeping in Milan airport

For the remainder of our stay, we explored the city, soaked up some local culture and, of course, sampled the food which was of the highest quality.

You can actually eat pretty cheaply in Milan if you look hard enough, and for just €9 you can get a pizza so large it won’t even fit on your plate.

This is one of my favourite parts of an away trip – the opportunity to check out a new city, to experience adventures and do things that you might not have ever done without football taking you there in the first place.

The trip ended on an uncomfortable note, sleeping in the airport as we waited for out flight home at an ungodly hour. I guess it just shows what you’ll put up with to go and support your team.

If you can afford it – and it can be done on a tight budget – I really recommend trip like ours.

Experiencing the delights and sights of a new city with your mates while indulging your love of football is something you won’t forget.