All posts by Shannon Gambling

Seagulls’ rising Welsh star looking to ‘make every chance count’

Brighton and Hove Albion Women’s forward Bronwen Thomas is looking to continue to make her “chances count” for club and country.

thomas-f229-3596104_613x460
Thomas in WSL action against Oxford

The Seagulls hosted their opening home Women’s Super League game on Sunday at Culver Road, and it was 16-year-old Thomas, Wales’s young player of the year, who scored their only goal.

Albion Women drew 1-1 with Oxford United in the competition’s Spring Series format, to make it two draws in their opening two games for George Parris’s side following an identical result against London Bees in their opener.

Thomas found a way through the Oxford back line on 31 minutes and her deflected shot looped over goalkeeper Demi Lambourne.

After the game she said: “It’s really nice obviously to start, but to get the first goal is great. It’s not just about me but it’s the whole team performance. The goal took a deflection and hung in the air for a while, but it was great to get the goal.

“I’m going to work hard in training and when I get my chance I want to make it count wherever I can”

“Oxford posed a threat, they were physical and in the second half our standards dropped a bit, but looking at us (Brighton), there’s definitely things to work on, and overall it’s a positive performance.

“We are a new group of girls, so it’s building on the positives and mending the negatives. Personally, I’m going to work hard in training and when I get my chance I want to make it count wherever I can.” added Thomas.

Interim Albion women’s manager Parris praised Thomas after the draw on Sunday: “It was a great goal, where we were sitting it took an eternity to hit the back of the net! She is an extremely promising player.”

Rapid raise to success

cw6apveweaaceoi
Thomas collecting her prestigious award in November

Just three seasons ago, Thomas was playing in the Sussex County Women & Girls Football League with Horsham Sparrows, captaining their under-14 team to Sussex Girls Challenge Cup success.

Since then, the young Brighton forward has been recognised as one of the game’s brightest talents and was  crowned Wales’ young women’s player of the year in November 2016 at a ceremony which also saw awards given out to Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale and Wales men’s team coach Chris Coleman.

Thomas’s award capped off a remarkable year in which she already broken into the Albion Women’s senior team and netted a hat-trick as the Seagulls retained the Sussex Women’s Challenge Cup in a 5-1 win over Crawley Wasps.

Praise from Albion chief executive

“We are incredibly proud of Bronwen, as a young player who has come through the club’s Regional Talent Centre”

Speaking last year, Albion chief executive Paul Barber led the congratulations, and said: “It has been an amazing year for Bronwen.

“She has broken into our first team, scored a hat-trick in the Sussex Senior Cup Final, been called up to the senior team by Wales, and now won this well-deserved award.

“We are incredibly proud of Bronwen, as a young player who has come through the club’s Regional Talent Centre, and in three short years made the step up to international football.”

thomas-l229-3000749-hatrick
Netting a hat-trick in the Women’s Sussex Challenge Cup final

On winning the award Thomas said “It came as a total surprise. I was so excited to have an invitation to attend the Wales awards evening with the meant that had done so well at the Euros and had no idea I was going to get an award!

“I had to go up and receive it in front of everyone and then be interviewed in front of them all. I will never forget the evening

“It means a lot, just playing for your country means a lot but to be picked as a young player of the year is amazing, and it is a great honour.

“It won’t do it any harm (to my future career) but I completely believe ‘you are as good as your last game’ is the way to approach things.”

Remaining grounded

“She is an extremely promising player”

Despite her remarkable rise, the teenager remains grounded. “I’ve got to keep working really hard and improving as a player to keep getting the opportunities I am at the moment with Brighton and Wales,” she says.

Thomas is set to link-up with her fellow Welsh internationals this week as the national team travel to the Cyprus Women’s Cup tournament. The women’s side will face Hungary, Czech Republic and Israel in Group C.

MERTHYR, WALES - Tuesday, February 14, 2017: Wales' Bronwen Thomas warms-up before a Women's Under-17's International Friendly match against Hungary at Penydarren Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)
International duty: Cyprus Cup

She will not be the only player away from Brighton on international duty. “The team (Brighton) will get back on the training pitch but with the nature of the set up, we have six ladies off on international camps,” said Parris. “This is great for them and the club, but for us back here, we will keep on working”.

Albion Women were meant to be at home to Doncaster Rovers Belles this coming Sunday, but because of the international call-ups, Brighton’s request to postpone the game was accepted.

The other players absent on national duty are  Alessia Russo (England under-19s), Jenna Legg (England under-23s), Laura Rafferty (Northern Ireland), Sophie Perry and Emma Byrne (both Republic of Ireland).

The postponed match means the Seagulls’ next game is a trip to Millwall Lionesses on Sunday 12th March.

 

The flipside to AFC Wimbledon’s success story: Kingstonian FC

Elephant Sport reporters Daniel Racheter and Shan Gambling visit Kingsmeadow Stadium – home of both non-league Kingstonian FC and League One side AFC Wimbledon.

Ryman Premier outfit Kingstonian originally took Wimbledon in, but the Dons are now their landlords and have sold the ground to Chelsea, who want to stage youth and women’s fixtures there.

Wimbledon have plans for a new stadium near the site of their old home in Plough Lane, while the Ks have been left looking for a groundshare for next season.

News on that is imminent as Daniel and Shan gauge the mood around the club during a match against Tonbridge Angels.

YouTube Preview Image

 

Elephant Sport Podcast – Women’s Football Special

In this edition of the Elephant Sport podcast, reporters Daniel Racheter and Shan Gambling discuss women’s football with Millwall Lionesses player Leanne Cowan.

Ahead of the upcoming Women’s European Championships in Holland this summer, Leanne gives her views on England’s chances after so nearly reaching the World Cup final two years ago.

Also discussed is the calendar changes that are set to go ahead for the Women’s Super League, moving the season to match the men’s calendar, running across the winter months.

Catch January’s Elephant Sport podcast here:

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/304107977″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]

LGBT football supporters’ groups on the rise

In 2014, Proud Canaries was launched and became the second officially-recognised lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) football supporters’ group in the country – the first was Arsenal’s Gay Gooners.

Since then, the group and its chair Di Cunningham have gone from strength to strength. Proud Canaries has raised awareness of LGBT fans and challenged homophobia as well as other forms of discrimination at Norwich’s Carrow Road home.

LGBT supporters’ groups are on the rise; there are now over 20 around the country, including 11 in the Premier League.

Fans from several LGBT supporters’ groups get together at a pride event

Cunningham has even set up the Pride in Football supporters network, which had its first formal meeting with the Football Association (FA) last year. The next scheduled for March 2017.

The groups are formed of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans supporters who work alongside their clubs to make attending football matches a safer place for everyone, by challenging homophobia and other forms of discrimination.

And since Proud Canaries was established, Cunningham has certainly seen a change. “In the 2014-15 season there were five incidents of homophobia and this was Norwich fans reporting Norwich fans”

“People didn’t report it before, partly because they didn’t think it was something to report, that it was normal behaviour at a football ground, and partly because they didn’t think anything would happen.

“Both of those issues have been raised by our launch and solved due to the awareness of Proud Canaries; there are LGBT fans in the crowd and that person sitting over there may be LGBT.

proud-canaries
Proud Canaries logo

“The fans can see the club are committed to Proud Canaries, that they will take action. No-one was banned or had season tickets removed, they were ejected from the ground but all five people are on their last warning and there’s been no reports since.”

The Proud Canary added that Carrow Road is now more of a “welcoming place” and that “more people are aware of not being homophobic,” she stated “you certainly get that impression from other LGBT supporters groups as well”.

The challenges of homophobia in football

The challenges of erasing homophobia from football stadia are clear.

The worry, however, is that there is no data to show exactly how many reports have been filed regarding homophobic abuse, at what clubs and what action may or may not have been taken, be it by police or football club.

If homophobia amongst football crowds was no longer a problem, we wouldn’t have police warning fans about potential discriminating behaviours; see Aston Villa’s police liaison officer’s tweet below – I didn’t wan’t to share the homophobic comments that followed in the Tweet trail…

 

banner_hertha_berlin-1477318745
Hertha Berlin’s anti-gay banner read: ‘WH96: Rather a mother than two fathers’

Often, homophobic abuse at football grounds, such as Brighton fans being taunted by the away supporters’ song ‘Does your boyfriend know you here?’ and Hertha Berlin’s recent banner jibe at Cologne (pictured) is labelled as ‘banter’, but Cunningham rejects this outright.

“I just don’t think any of it is banter; you wouldn’t hear it if it was racist, you just wouldn’t. Mocking anyone’s race is racist and anything mocking anyone’s sexuality is homophobic.”

The chair of Pride in Football explained the difficulties of reporting homophobia and the aim going forward. “What we are trying to do, as part of pride in football, across the country, is to get some kind of unified reporting system in place

“A set of data that shows how many reports there have been, at what clubs and what action was taken as a result.

“This just doesn’t exist at the moment, as there are so many different ways of reporting; be it through the club or the police and then it just ends, it’s been reported and nobody knows what happens as a result”.

Setting up Proud Canaries

151119-justin-fashanu
The late, openly gay Norwich striker Justin Fashanu

It was a personal experience that led Cunningham to set up the Proud Canaries, an experience of which many LGBT fans can sadly relate to.

“I had two season ticket holders who sat behind me, almost every home match would say something homophobic in some way and it began to really get to me.

“On Justin Fashanu’s birthday [Former Norwich striker and the first openly gay footballer who tragically hung himself in 1998] we had been handing out stickers from the yearly Norwich pride event, and that day I just turned round and said ‘Can you just not’.

“Shockingly they both had young sons they brought, so I did kind of confront of it, but I did feel bad for moving seats and not dealing with the problem.

“A friend of mine knew someone from the Gay Gooners group, so we thought we would set up the LGBT Proud Canaries.”

The club responded, and provide constant support for Proud Canaries. Norwich’s latest fans’ forum stated the following points:

  • Signage at Carrow Road is being reviewed and will be updated to incorporate reference to homophobia.
  • Reporting mechanisms for supporters to report abuse – more prominence to be given to contact details in match day programme.
  • Proud Canaries would like to offer their services as an educational resource as part of any anti-discrimination work the Club is undertaking, including through the Community Sports Foundation

You can see Di Cunningham’s video animation story explaining the beginnings of Proud Canaries by clicking here

Parliament committee’s and FA struggles

“Credit to the Premier League who gave us some money to have a planning away day, they’ve met with us regularly. The FA wouldn’t meet with us at first”

Chairing the group has even lead to Cunningham being asked to speak at a recent Culture, Sport and Media parliamentary committee, she said “It was brilliant, I was really pleased. Fans are usually the last in the list of people to be consulted by anybody”.

The FA Chairman Greg Clarke has twice been called to the committee and Cunningham explained that they’re getting somewhere. “Clarke has responded really well and after being called to two of the committee’s, we had a meeting with the FA”

The Premier League were supportive of the Proud Canaries last season, but the FA didn’t want to know.

Di Cunningham (left) pictured with local Police Commissioner Stephen Bett

“We had been banging on the door of the FA to give us a meeting, but credit to the Premier League who gave us some money to have a planning away day, they’ve met with us regularly. The FA wouldn’t meet with us at first.”

Although Cunningham admitted nothing is “concrete” as of yet, “progress is being made”.

There has been some fantastic work off the pitch, charted by the rise of LGBT fan groups and brilliant campaigners like Di Cunningham.

On the pitch we can only be closer to seeing a professional footballer, in England, confident enough to come out with his sexuality.

It’s likely the rise of LGBT fan groups could play a major role. Cunningham explained she’d “like to think” the supporters groups could help on the way to a footballer being open with their sexuality, but admits there’s still many challenges on the way for LGBT fan groups.

“LGBT fan groups have been in the absence of anything official from the FA, so we haven’t got the signage, the steward training and you still hear homophobia at many grounds and in the absence of that, we are a do-it-yourself movement.

“But it now looks like the authorities are going to act. I think it’s that awareness of the LGBT support groups, that there are LGBT fans around.

“It’s the fact the six percent of the population are LGBT. The next difficult thing to achieve is to make games more welcoming for transgender people.”

You can read more here: Pride in Football and Proud Canaries

Who is the 2016 team of the year?

2016 has been yet another fantastic year of sport, one well worth celebrating, be it the remarkable story of the underdog or persistent dominance at the top level.

Below are Elephant Sport’s top five teams of the year, which range from the record breaking Team GB Women’s Hockey squad, how a rugby-loving nation went football mad and the fairytale story of Leicester City.

5) Mercedes F1; the continuing domination

The Mercedes F1 team sealed their third successive double of Constructors’ and Drivers’ World Championships in 2016.

The team clinched both accolades in 2014 and 2015, and now 2016 when the constructor’s crown was sealed in Japan and Nico Rosberg clinched the driver’s title, in the last race of the season at Abu-Dhabi.

mercedes-celebrate-third-consesive-construtors
Mercedes celebrate a third consecutive Constructors Championship

Not only are Mercedes on a fantastic run spanning three years, in 2016 they managed to break several records on the way.

The German works team won a record 19 of the 21 races in the season, helping them to notch up another record; an impressive tally of 765 points in a single campaign.

They also bagged the most poles in a season; 20, one away from a whole season of Mercedes poles.

Their 10 consecutive race wins could have been another history-maker; if Lewis Hamilton’s engine wouldn’t have failed in Malaysia (effectively costing him the drivers trophy), Mercedes would have 16 consecutive race wins.

“Making history along the way and re-writing the record books, what we’ve achieved together is mind-blowing”

After helping to secure the constructors championship with a win in Japan, Rosberg said: “I’ve been here since day one of this project in 2010 and it’s really phenomenal the journey we’ve taken together towards being the best team in Formula 1.

“Making history along the way and re-writing the record books, what we’ve achieved together is mind-blowing and I’m really proud to have played my small part in that”

The standards Mercedes have set in 2016 will take some beating.

4) England’s rugby union winning streak

A year on from the disappointment of a dismal home World Cup, England rugby union’s squad completed a perfect 2016, equalling their record of 14 successive wins, set in 2003.

edjon
England coach Eddie Jones celebrating one of the teams 14 successive victories this year

Eddie Jones’s side equalled that mark by achieving their highest ever score over rivals Australia at Twickenham; a 37-21 win on December 3.

England can surpass their current record in February 2017, when they face France at Twickenham in the RBS Six Nations opening fixture.

Since Jones’s arrival in November 2015, England have made tremendous progress, with a Six Nations Grand Slam, a whitewash of Australia in the summer Test series down under, and a first win in a decade against South Africa.

According to the wily Australian, “10-15 English players” could feature in the 2017 British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand.

“We are not looking at records, just the next game. But we can draw a line under this year with a good victory against a quality side [Australia],” England captain Dylan Hartley told BBC 5 Live.

“I’m very proud of the guys over the last few weeks, and it’s nice to go back to our clubs knowing we have done English rugby and the shirt proud.

“We leave it in a good place until the Six Nations,” added Hartley.

3) Wales impress at Euro 2016

A rugby-loving nation went football mad over the summer, when the Welsh national side qualified for their first major tournament since 1958 and outstandingly reached their first ever major semi-final.

wales-v-slovakia-euro-2016-group-b
Wales score their first goal at a major tournament since 1958

More than half the population watched the Euro 2016 semi-final defeat to Portugal, beating the record set for a sporting event, which was in fact only previously set by the Welsh in their Euro 2016 quarter final victory over Belgium.

It was only five years ago that Wales were ranked 117 in the world, and in 2016 they finish an impressive 12th according to Fifa’s rankings; one place above England.

Thanks to their successful surge, Wales were seeded for the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, which could set them in a great position to qualifying for only their third major finals next year.

Star man Gareth Bale has also been nominated for the 2016 Footballer of the Year award. The Real Madrid striker scored three goals at Euro 2016, making him Wales’ all-time top goal scorer in major tournaments.

“When you start playing around with the top 10, that’s a good feeling”

Wales manager Chris Coleman told the Evening Standard that after 2016’s success the nation must “not get carried away”.

“We have had some dark times when we have dropped outside the top 100. So when you start playing around with the top 10, that’s a good feeling.

“But there’s a different kind of pressure on us, we can’t be ‘plucky old Wales’. People will expect us to deliver.”

2) Team GB Women’s hockey gold

At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, Team GB’s women’s hockey squad became history-makers by winning the nation’s first-ever female field hockey gold.

hockey-girls-celebrate-gold
The GB women’s hockey team celebrate gold

Danny Kerry’s squad were huge underdogs when they faced the Netherlands in the final.

The Dutch comfortably won gold in both the 2008 Olympics (Beijing) and 2012 (London). They were also ranked number one in the world.

The final finished 3-3 in normal time, with Britain’s keeper Maddie Hinch making a string of remarkable saves.

And the Dutch could not beat Hinch in the resulting shootout, which Britain won 2-0. Helen Richardson-Walsh and Hollie Webb scored the decisive penalties to seal a famous victory.

Captain Kate Richardson-Walsh and wife Helen Richardson-Walsh became the first married couple to win gold for Britain since Cyril and Dorothy Wright in the sailing in 1920.

“That will change the face of British hockey”

After the game former Team GB men’s hockey bronze medallist Simon Moore told the BBC: “I am genuinely struggling to put this result into words.

“GB were under pressure for huge chunks but we thought if it went to penalties we could win. Fair play to Maddie Hinch, just incredible.

“That will change the face of British hockey.”

And according to the University of the Arts hockey president Dhalyn Warren, the sport has already seen a huge “rise in participation”.

1) Leicester City; Premier League Champions

In at number one; the greatest underdog story of all time; in May 2016 Leicester City were remarkably and deservedly crowned champions of England, and not one of us predicted it.

_89204280_lineker
Former Leicester star Gary Lineker was one of many to doubt the appointment of Claudio Ranieri

Having pulled in manager Claudio Ranieri, sacked from the Greece national side in November 2014, the whole of England expected to see Leicester relegated back to the Championship from which they were promoted in 2014; especially after flirting with relegation in 2015.

The Foxes are now in the elite club of only six sides to have won the Premier League since its inception in 1992.

A number of newspapers described their title win as the greatest sporting upset of all time. Not forgetting the huge record pay outs by the bookmakers on early-season odds of 5,000-1.

lcfc-champs
Leicester City lif the Premier League trophy

Star striker Jamie Vardy also broke a record; scoring 11 goals in 11 consecutive league games. Vardy was also the ninth player to score 20 top flight goals in a season.

Ranieri’s side had the fewest away defeats in any top flight season; defeated only twice on their travels. The club produced a further record for the most consecutive wins in the top flight (five).

The club have also continued their underdog story; successfully progressing into the Champions League knock-out stages.

Former Foxes midfielder Robbie Savage told the BBC: “I’m speechless, it is unbelievable. I’ve seen England win the Ashes and get OBEs and MBEs.

“This Leicester team’s achievement is greater than any of that. They should be recognised in the honours list”

Overall the fairytale of Leicester City makes this side, the team of the year for 2016.

Amaechi’s alternative route after NBA retirement

“I have no interest in actually teaching kids how to put a ball in a hole, I’m interested in what we can do with and through sport”

Former NBA star John Amaechi, has taken an alternative route since retiring from basketball in 2003.

Even while playing college hoops at Penn State, the Briton became a motivational speaker, aiming to inspire young people from tough backgrounds to achieve their potential.

It set him on the path he was to follow after a career which included stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz, as well as leading clubs in France, Greece and Italy.

Amaechi told me: “It was always the plan, I never intended to play basketball forever. I’d always intended to be a psychologist since the age of about nine.

“I have no interest in basketball or sport at all, I’m interested in what we can do for society but that’s still sociology and the psychology around sport.”

Performance

amaechi-orlando-magic
Amaechi in action for the Orlando Magic

Amaechi, who was born in Boston but grew up in Stockport until the age of 17, could have taken the more tried-and-tested route into coaching, punditry or maybe a managerial or executive role in basketball.

“I’m more interested in what we can do in terms of developing community and teaching lessons through sport,” said the 46-year-old who was received an OBE in the 2011 Queen’s Birthday Honours list, for services to sport and the voluntary sector.

“I have no interest in actually teaching kids how to put a ball in a hole, I’m interested in what we can do with and through sport.”

To that end, he set up Amaechi Performance Systems (APS) in 2008 and now leads a team that combines psychological, corporate and educational training for businesses, education and sports professionals, teams and individuals.

‘The job I love’

Amaechi, who entered the NBA’s Hall of Fame after scoring the first points of the new millennium, said: “I’m working with varied organisations such as schools all the way through to big corporates and the intelligent services.

“My work as a psychologist is now organisational, coaching individuals, small groups, organisations to help them deal with transformation, change, retention, recruitment, engagement, motivation you name it.

“I don’t think I could have imagined the job as it stands now, but it’s certainly the job I love; I’ve never loved anything more than this.”

The 6ft 10in former power forward/centre says he first realised the power that sport has to influence people and change their lives during his NBA days.

Improve

john-amaechi-is-made-an-officer-of-the-british-empire-obe-by-the-prince-of-wales-pic-pa-631098199
Amaechi was honoured by the Prince of Wales in 2011

He recalled: “I was playing for Cleveland in my first year in the NBA, I wasn’t great as a player, and my team was not great. The city was very under-enthused about basketball.

“I met a mother who wanted me to sign an autograph for her child, of course I did and then I shook his hand, as I walked away, I saw the way he looked at his hand, he was frozen, staring at the hand I just shook.

“I realised then the power that even a terrible basketball player, from a terrible basketball team could have.

“It was very informative for the way I would conduct myself from then on, realising I was not just literally but metaphorically a giant and in my society I could improve things and change things.”

Donation

Part of his mission to ‘improve and change things’ happened on a personal level when, in February 2007, he became the first former NBA player to come out publicly as gay.

He recently appeared before the Commons Culture, Media And Sport Committee to urge that more progress be made in tackling homophobia in sport and society in general.

amaechi-basketball-centre-1
The Amaechi Basketball Centre

In truth, however, his interests and concerns are far wider than campaigning on a single issue, and he continues to use his influence to make a difference to people’s lives in all sorts of ways.

A perfect example of this is another of Amaechi’s successful projects – the Amaechi Basketball Centre which opened in July 2002.

Helped by a £250,000 donation from Amaechi, Greater Manchester Community Basketball was able to move to a £2.1m purpose-built centre.

It features three basketball courts, 10 outdoor five-aside football pitches, a health and fitness suite, dance studio, conference room, café-bar area and appropriate changing facilities.

A not-for-profit organisation with charitable status, it is “dedicated to providing basketball opportunities for all sections of the community, to achieve their own potential, regardless of ability, ethnic background, socio-economic background, gender or age”.

Participation

The centre perfectly aligns with Amaechi’s goals and his mission to explore the potential in people that can be unlocked through sport.

It has certainly fulfilled his aim of  ‘improve and change things’ in the community where he grew up.

john-amaechi-speaking-to-pupils
Amaechi speaks to pupils at Stockport Grammar School

Greater Manchester Community Basketball now has the highest number of participants involved in programmes nationally, and also achieved the Five-Star Standard Award from England Basketball.

Not only does the club have a successful men’s team in Manchester Magic, who compete in the UK’s National Basketball League (not the British Basketball League) they also have a variety of youth teams and a women’s club, Manchester Mystics.

Amaechi says he is “interested in what sport can do in terms of developing community,” and the Amaechi Basketball Centre does exactly that.

It’s refreshing to see what high-profile athletes can do with the power and influence they have, especially when retirement presents them with fresh challenges and opportunities.

You can find out more about Amaechi Performance Systems here.

Top five F1 championship finales

This weekend sees the climax to another thrilling Formula One season, with Mercedes drivers Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton going head to head for the World Drivers’ Championship.

For the second time in three years, Rosberg and Hamilton head the pack going into the Abu Dhabi finale.

This time, it’s Rosberg who is the clear favourite, given his 12-point lead – but there are still several ways Hamilton could come from behind to snatch the title from his team-mate.

Rosberg will win the 2016 crown if he finishes on the podium. Hamilton must finish within the top four to stand any chance of snatching the championship – but even then he needs a helping hand from his German rival.

The title has been won in the final race of the year 28 times in the 66 seasons it has been awarded.

Elephant Sport selects its top five final-race championship deciders; many British motorsport fans will be hoping that this weekend’s finale will be added to the list.

1984: Niki Lauda wins by the finest of margins

prost-lauda-1984
1984 team mates Alain Prost (left) & Niki Lauda (right)

The 1984 season came to a dramatic conclusion in the final round at Estoril, Portugal.

The campaign was dominated by McLaren drivers Niki Lauda and Alain Prost.

Frenchman Prost had won seven races to Lauda’s five, but Lauda eventually prevailed by half a point – the smallest margin in F1 history.

Prost qualified second, Lauda 11th. There were shirts and posters already printed that stated “Prost: 1984 World Champion”; but Austria’s Lauda proved them wrong by climbing up to third.

Prost moved up to first and led most of the race, with Nigel Mansell in second in his last race for Lotus before moving to Williams. Mansell retired due to persistent brake problems, Lauda duly moved up to second- ensuring his third drivers crown.

1986: Heartbreak for Nigel Mansell

Three drivers stood a chance of claiming the drivers’ championship in the 1986 season finale in Australia.

Mansell, with 70 points, needed at least third place to beat Prost, who had 64. Nelson Piquet had 63 points going into the final race.

Mclaren’s Keke Rosberg initially led Piquet, with Prost third ahead of Mansell.

The turning point in the race came on lap 32, a blessing in disguise for Prost. The Frenchman’s right front tyre punctured forcing him to make a pitstop, and he returned to the track in fourth.

It looked as though Prost’s race was ruined, but it eventually proved key to him winning. Goodyear technicians inspected his punctured tyre and saw that it was actually in good condition.

The technicians informed the other teams that they could reach the end of the race, without needing to stop to fit fresh tyres.

242
Mansell’s 1986 championship dreams explode

But on lap 63, race leader Rosberg retired with a tyre de-lamination; the compound tyres were not lasting the race.

With the McLaren gone there was one less car standing between Mansell and the title, and it mattered not that Prost had passed him, leaving the Briton third once again.

Mansell was on lap 64 of 82, when, cruising down the main straight, his left-rear tyre exploded and a shower of sparks burst from the rear of his car.

His catastrophic exit remains one of F1’s most enduring images, and it left Piquet leading from Prost.

The Brazilian on the verge of winning the championship, but there was no hesitation in bringing him in for fresh tyres.

That left Prost in the lead, thanks to his early pitstop. Luck was definitely on his side that day as he secured a second drivers championship.

1994 & 1997: Schumacher madness

0126b6eceb58bf65084338f93c8976d4
Schumacher controversially collides with Hill in the 1994 season finale

Two similar incidents occurred in the final races of both the 1994 and 1997 seasons to determine the world whampion, both involving Michael Schumacher.

1994 saw Schumacher pip Damon Hill to the title by one point in the last race of the season (Australia).

On lap 35, Hill was right behind the German, who led, when he saw his chance to pass. As Hill’s Williams drew alongside the Benetton, Schumacher appeared to turn in aggressively and there was contact between the two cars.

The Benetton was damaged badly enough to mean immediate retirement. Hill’s car initially appeared to be okay but soon he was also back in the pits and out of the race.

This left Schumacher champion on 92 points, with Hill on 91. The controversy and speculation was furthered when ‘Schumi’ attempted the same trick to win the 1997 title.

9536a1c3f1eff29ebf8601b55249b30d
And again in 1997; Schumacher collides with championship rival Jacques Villeneuve

Unfortunately for the German, it backfired.

On lap 48 of the season finale at Jerez, championship rival Jacques Villeneuve was catching Schumacher and attempted to overtake.

The Canadian had the inside line and was slightly ahead when Schumacher turned into him, his front right wheel connecting with the side of the Williams car.

Schumacher had ended his own race but Villeneuve was able to continue and went pn to take third place – enough to win the championship.

The German was later punished by for causing an avoidable accident and was disqualified from the 1997 championship.

2008: Hamilton’s last-corner victory

The 2008 finale in Brazil was one of the most dramatic yet, fought out in wet conditions between Hamilton (McLaren) and Felipe Massa (Ferrari).

Hamilton led by seven points going into the final round. A maximum of ten were available for thewinner, which meant that Massa could win the title if Hamilton finished sixth or lower.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 02: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and McLaren Mercedes drives on his way to winning the Formula One World Championship during the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix at the Interlagos Circuit on November 2, 2008 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Hamilton dramatically passes Glock on the last corner of the race

A late-race rain shower looked to have cost Hamilton the title when he dropped to sixth after a stop for wet tyres.

Massa had won the race and prematurely began his celebrations.

But Hamilton managed to pass Toyota’s Timo Glock quite literally on the last corner of the last lap, to finish in fifth and clinch his first world title.

2010: Four-way showdown in the dessert

In 2010 as many as five drivers from three teams were in contention for the title. At different points in the season Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull all seemed to have the car to beat.

Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso all went to the final race in Abu Dhabi still with a chance of taking the drivers crown.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 14: Race winner and F1 2010 World Champion Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Red Bull Racing celebrates on the podium following the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at the Yas Marina Circuit on November 14, 2010 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Sebastian Vettel
An emotional Vettel clinches his first championship in 2010

Hamilton was an outsider in the McLaren with team-mate Jenson Button’s title hopes slipping away before the campaign’s climax in the desert.

Vettel drove a masterful race in the Red Bull to win and lift his maiden F1 title.

The German was third in the standings prior to the race but led from pole and saw other outcomes go his way to become F1’s youngest champion.

Ferrari’s championship leader Alonso came seventh after a poor pitstop strategy saw him stuck behind Renault’s Vitaly Petrov, and the same fate befell Webber (Red Bull) who finished eighth.

Hamilton, who had a slim title chance, finished second but it wasn’t enough. It was a dramatic end to an enthralling season and gave Red Bull their first drivers’ title.

The final standings had Vettel top on 256 points, four clear of Alonso, 14 above third-place Webber and 16 in front of Hamilton in fourth.

Overall, 32 different drivers have won the F1 drivers title, with Schumacher holding the record with seven.

Rosberg will be hoping to become No.33 by winning his first championship this weekend.

The current Drivers’ Champion is Hamilton, who won his first World Championship in 2008, regained it in 2014 and retained it in 2015.

But Hamilton, having been involved in several final-race showdowns, will know that the championship may not be so straightforward for Rosberg who is overdue some bad luck.

The lights go out on Sunday at 1pm (GMT) but the drama will begin on Saturday at 1pm with the all-important qualifying session to decide who begins on pole.

Why Hamilton can still win the F1 drivers’ crown

The Brazilian Grand Prix has served up incident-packed races ever since it first appeared on the F1 calendar in 1973.

And a good dose drama at Interlagos is exactly what Lewis Hamilton needs if he is to take the drivers’ championship into the final round in Abu Dhabi.

rosberg
Hamilton cannot afford to see Rosberg celebrating a win in Brazil

His Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg will take the crown if he wins either of the year’s two remaining races, or by finishing with at least one second and third place even if Hamilton wins in both Brazil and Abu Dhabi.

So can Hamilton snatch the title out of the German’s grasp despite trailing him by 19 points?

Most petrolheads will tell you that Interlagos is a circuit that produces tantalisingly good races – contests that, down the years, have seen many championships won and lost.

So Britain’s three-time F1 champion only needs to glance through the Brazilian GP’s history to be hopeful of derailing Rosberg’s title dream.

Comebacks and drama

In 2006, Michael Schumacher proved the circuit is one for overtaking. Starting from 10th position on the grid, the German did an astonishing job after falling to 19th position due to a flat tyre.

The seven-time world champion returned to the race, having almost been lapped, and carved his way through the field to finish in fourth place.

“Hamilton will take confidence from replaying his 2008 outing at Interlagos, showing that miracles in Brazil can happen.”

‘Schumi’s’ performance was agonisingly not enough to win his eighth drivers’ crown, as Fernando Alonso successfully defended his title.

Hamilton will also surely take confidence from replaying his own 2008 outing at Interlagos, showing that miracles in Brazil can happen.

After adopting a conservative strategy to secure at least 5th place, and the title, a late-race rain shower caused unexpected problems.

Hamilton wins the championship at the last corner in Brazil 2008

Hamilton was pushed down to 5th place by Timo Glock who didn’t enter the pits for intermediates like most others.

With just three laps to go, Sebastian Vettel overtook the Briton which meant Hamilton would end up with equal points to Massa, but with one fewer victory.

Against all expectations Vettel and Hamilton were able to overtake Glock, who had lost all grip with his dry-weather tyres, in the very last corner of the race.

This meant that Hamilton ultimately grabbed the fifth place he needed to become champion.

The 2009 season saw more drama as Jenson Button sealed the drivers’ championship with a sublime recovery drive, starting in 14th but finishing fourth.

In 2012, the outcome of the championship remained in doubt until the final lap, as Vettel – who fell to the back of the field on the first lap – drove a gritty race back through the pack to seal the title.

Although Hamilton is yet to win in Brazil, he can take confidence in denting Rosberg’s maiden title hopes from the tracks record of drama.

Weather

Rain is nothing out of the ordinary at Interlagos in November, and so the weather might also give Hamilton a helping hand.

He won’t have forgetten the Monaco GP earlier this year, which he won in in wet conditions while Rosberg struggled home in seventh place.

Inclement weather often courses havoc in F1, with drivers’ race strategies hit by puddles and spray, while chopping and changing tyres from full wets, to intermediates and back to slicks can often catch them out.

rain-in-interlagos-in-2013
Rain is a regular occurrence at the Brazilian GP

The forecast for Sao Paulo suggests there is a chance of low temperatures and showers on Saturday and Sunday.

Another seventh placed finish for Rosberg and a win in the wet for Hamilton would leave the pair level on 355 points going into the final weekend in Abu-Dhabi.

Three of the last six race weekends in Brazil have featured wet weather.

Combine that with Interlagos being a tight, twisty circuit which dries out quite quickly, and unpredictability is almost guaranteed.

For example, Nico Hulkenberg won a surprise pole position for Williams on a drying track in 2010.

A full-on wet race could also swing the balance towards Red Bull who have looked strong in the rain this season.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen finished second in a wet British GP earlier this year with Hamilton winning, Rosberg third and Verstappen’s team mate Daniel Ricciardo fourth.

Rosberg overdue bad luck

hamilton-mayalaysia
Hamilton breaks down in Malaysia

Over the course of the year Rosberg has surprisingly only won one more race than Hamilton, despite the large points difference between the two.

Hamilton has had the lump sum of bad luck between the pair. You only need to glance at the table below to see that Rosberg is due a blip.

Race’s in which Mercedes drivers have had problems

Race order Driver Problem
Bahrain Hamilton Hamilton suffered a first-corner collision dropping to 7th; he fought back to 3rd
China Hamilton Hamilton started at the back of the grid due to a power unit failure; he finished 7th
Russia Hamilton The Brit started 10th after an engine failure in qualifying; he finished 5th.
Spain Hamilton & Rosberg Rosberg and Hamilton collided on the first lap resulting in both not finishing the race
Canada Rosberg The German finished 5th after suffering a slow puncture during the race
Austria Rosberg The German turned into a corner late as Hamilton tried to pass around the outside and damaged his front wing, finishing fourth. Rosberg was given a 10-second penalty.
Belgium Hamilton Hamilton started in 21st place on the grid, after a raft of engine penalties resulting from failures early in the season. He fought back to third.
Malaysia Hamilton Hamilton’s title hopes were dealt a heavy blow when his engine failed as he led the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Just one error for Rosberg will blow the championship wide open, be it in the wet conditions he’s struggled in this season, the drama the Brazilian GP often throws up or an overdue car performance issue for the German.

If Hamilton can emulate his hero Senna and notch his first win at the late Brazilian’s home circuit; the current world champ could bolster his chances of defending his crown and taking it right down to the wire in Abu-Dhabi.

Review – The Ref Show

Football fans like nothing more than picking apart the weekend’s action and sharing their views, and modern media presents plenty of opportunities.

But for those who like to analyse the performance of the officials, there are fewer platforms – and that is where You Are The Ref comes along

you are the ref logo

You Are The Ref’s ‘Ref Show’ is a web-based broadcast that provides insights into key decisions from the weekend’s football fixtures, from the lower leagues to the game’s biggest stage.

The show encourages fans, clubs and players to get involved on Twitter with conversations and debates of the refereeing decisions that have occurred over the weekend, several incidents are then chosen for discussion on Monday’s show.

You Are The Ref (YATR) originated as a cartoon strip that first appeared in a newspaper in 1957.

The strip’s original artist, Paul Trevillion, and the Premier League’s Head of Referees Keith Hackett agreed to bring YATR back to life in The Observer and on The Guardian website from 2006 to 2016 before moving online.

Every Monday, the site broadcasts two 10-minute segments, hosted by sports journalist Alan Biggs, who is joined by a panel of former players, referees and other high-profile names from the game.

In the edition I watched, Biggs was joined by outspoken former Premier League referee Mark Halsey and ex-England international David Hirst.

“As the show is so big on fan interaction, I put it to the test by tweeting about a hugely controversial incident from an FA Cup first-round match”

The weekend’s main talking point came at the Emirates Stadium where Arsenal’s goal in their 1-1 draw with Tottenham was the subject of a massive debate across the game – Alexis Sánchez and Shkodran Mustafi had both strayed offside when Mesut Özil curled over the free-kick that led to Kevin Wimmer heading into his own net.

Other topics up for discussion included big-match appointments, a Football League round-up and Rochdale striker Calvin Andrew’s 12-match ban for elbowing.

Controversial incident

As the show is so big on fan interaction, I put it to the test by tweeting about a hugely controversial incident from an FA Cup first round match between Whitehawk and Stourbridge.

The referee blew his whistle for full-time just as Hawks midfielder Javier Favarel volleyed the ball from 30 yards, into the back of the net for what he believed was the winner. The goal was disallowed and the game finished 1-1.

Over to Halsey and Co to discuss – and they did.

Halsey expressed that he felt “sorry for the ref” on this occasion but said common sense should have prevailed.

“Just as he was in flight to hit the ball, the ref below the whistle. Give yourself a bit of thinking time, delay the whistle. Just wait and read the game, anticipate it,” added the former Premier League referee.

Hirst discussed briefly the difficulties of how the match ends, expressing the idea of going down the “rugby route”

“When the ball becomes dead, that’s when you blow the whistle”

It was refreshing and positive to see The Ref Show taking note of my tweet and discussing it. Full credit for acknowledging matters in the lower leagues as many pundits, journalists and fans fail to remember they even exist.

Andrew’s ban raised many eyebrows in the week, to put it briefly in what Hasley described as a “savage attack”. Andrew elbowed opponent Peter Clarke (Oldham) off the ball and was handed a 12-game ban, one of the longest in English football history.

mark halsey
Former Premier League referee and Ref Show regular Mark Halsey

“A savage attack… hats off for the FA taking action” said Halsey who believes the ban should have been longer.

“I can understand the referee not seeing it because the play’s out on the left, he’s got to keep his eye on were the ball is, he’s not going to be looking at the six-yard box. For me, 12 games is not enough from what I saw.”

Former Sheffield Wednesday striker Hirst agreed. “If you look at the Eric Cantona incident, the kung-fu kick, he was banned for 9-10 months [Cantona was banned for nine months from football and ordered to do 120 hours community service as a result of his kick on a Crystal Palace fan who taunted the Frenchman]

“If Calvin Andrew did that (elbow) out in the town on any night it is GBH (grievous bodily harm),” added Hirst

Ref Cam

Another feature of the site well worth mentioning is the ref cam. This is a running text commentary on televised games by former match officials, giving analysis on the referee’s performance and key decisions.

Former officials who have been in charge of the Ref Cam so far this season include Guy Beale, Mark Halsey, Andy Hogg and Dean Mohareb, amongst others. The link to the latest piece of ref cam can be found here.

What does the show lack?

“The show is well worth a watch, especially knowing you can tweet in an incident you may have witnessed and see it analysed by the panel”

The show is good but not perfect, and one of the major features  the You Are The Ref show lacks is video analysis.

The chat on the show is purely studio discussion and other than the use of some fans tweets and a couple of background pictures it’s not massively interactive.

To see in the incidents the panel discuss in pictures would add great value and quite possibly be the last piece in the already well put-together jigsaw, but clearly it’s a broadcast rights.

However, the show, unlike no other, offers fantastic insight on referee’s appointments and performances as well as providing further understanding for fans from an official’s perspective.

It really is a must-watch for anyone involved in the sport and well worth 20 minutes of your Monday evening, especially knowing you can tweet in an incident you may have witnessed over the weekend and see it analysed by the panel.

You can find links to the 7th November show and previous editions from this season here

‘Openly gay footballers? It’s a long way off’

“My sexuality and football are equally important in my life… it’s just a shame that the two can evoke a lot of conflict”

Sadly, being openly gay in football, as a fan or player, is to risk the homophobia that has run through the game for years.

Attitudes are gradually starting to change. A handful of footballers have come out as gay – mostly in retirement – and someone like Neil Beasley is able to tell his story, which is simply a must-read.

book cover 2Coventry City fan Beasley, also the player and chairman of Birmingham Blaze from the Gay Football Supporters Network (GFSN), talks honestly about growing up gay in the game and fighting for his right to enjoy the sport he loves without prejudice.

The author describes his opportunity on telling a story from a point of view that hasn’t been told before.

“There are grassroots players who are out and nobody ever talks about them,” he told me. “Nobody talks about their lives and no-one cares or asks what it’s like for lesbian, gay, bi and transsexual (LGBT) fans.”

His story, which took two years to write, touches on Beasley’s youth, playing football, coming out to his team-mates and the macho culture that views gays as weak and somehow not masculine enough to play a ‘man’s game’.

The book also raises awareness about the GFSN and the ugly homophobic abuse that still dogs the beautiful game at all levels.

As well as his own struggles, Beasley’s book offers views from a former Premier League professional, an openly gay non-league manager and a current gay non-league footballer.

“It wasn’t too hard to be open with my feelings telling the story. Trying to get hold of a professional player to talk, now that was hard!” Beasley said.

“We tried lots of people and lots of football clubs to get help. It was difficult, when it came to the subject hardly anyone wanted to talk and when we finally got somebody they didn’t want their name put with it

“The reason we think the professional didn’t want his name in the book was because of what happened with Matt Jarvis, who appeared on front of Attitude gay magazine and got a lot of abuse.”

jarvis_2442657b
Matt Jarvis appeared on the cover of Attitude magazine in 2013

Jarvis, who is heterosexual, appeared on the cover of Attitude magazine in January 2013 whilst at West Ham and gave an interview stating that gay footballers should be open about their sexuality.

In the book, the anonymous Premier League player discusses his views on homophobia and how he played for a team with an openly gay footballer in the set-up.

“I never would have known that he was gay if he hadn’t come out. It makes me wonder if I have played with other players who are gay. I must have.

“The courses that organisations like the FA are running, coupled with campaigns such as Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces are improving peoples’ awareness and understanding,” he adds.

Are we close to having openly gay footballers?

In 2016, we are yet to have an openly gay footballer across all professional leagues in England, and Beasley told me that he believes it won’t happen for a while yet.

“There will gay footballers right now. When do we think they’re going to come out? I think we’re a long way off

“There would be quite a distance between one and two coming out but between two, three, four etc, they’d come quite quickly”

“Every time we get somewhere, somebody else says something stupid. You can’t go more than six months without someone bringing it to a negative light

“I don’t know why you would want to come out. Life would be difficult, if you were having a bad game, the fans are going to hate you and what’s the first thing they look for? Weakness.

“Being gay is always seen as a weakness, not being macho, it’s the first thing they’re going to go for.

“People say it’s no different from when the black people played in the 80s. Yes, it is – you could see that they’re black.”

Coming out

Most football fans are familiar with the case of former Nottingham Forest striker Justin Fashanu, who in 1990 came out as gay. No-one else followed suit. The first black footballer to command a £1 million transfer fee tragically hanged himself in 1998.

However, the author of Football’s Coming Out believes in 2016 there would be a chain reaction if one high-profile footballer came out.

“We would see an initial delay because everyone would want to see what would happen.

“What would happen if you went and reported someone for making homophobic comments to a steward or police? Nothing”

“There would be quite a distance between one and two coming out but between two, three, four etc, they’d come quite quickly.”

Being open with his sexuality to fellow team-mates at Non-League Heyford Athletic was courageous of Beasley, but for him a situation which, bizarrely, he found “disappointing”.

“People ask what it was like coming out to team-mates, they’re after a meaty story but I always say actually nobody really cared!

“In a roundabout way it was a real disappointment! In my mind I was going to get kicked out of the club,” joked the author.

But he remains adamant there have been no real improvements in relation to homophobia in the sport.

“What I think there is, is a media interest that was never there before, trying to push a positive spin on it. From a fans point of view, it’s not a great deal different.”

Abuse from the terraces

In the book, which was nominated for the prestigious William Hill Sports Book of the Year award, Beasley describes how we still hears homophobic abuse on the terraces today; specifically at a recent England World Cup qualifier.

“Outsiders enter a football stadium with this fear of hooliganism, and their fears are often compounded through the aggressive, hostile atmosphere at games.

beasley
Beasley kisses the Birmingham Blaze badge

“And when the outsider is gay? Well, they’re definitely going to be pretty fearful of the hateful, often homophobic, attitude.”

Beasley recalls Tom Cleverley having homophobic abuse hurled at him at Wembley.

“Fans love a scapegoat, and this idiot picked out Cleverly, the reason for the midfielder’s underperformance was that he was a ‘faggot’

“The vocal fan carried on with a volley of aggressive homophobic abuse as the game continued. Inside, I was seething”.

Beasley said the homophobic abuse we hear at football matches needs to be questioned.

“It needs to be challenged. If you stood there and shouted something racist, it would be challenged by other supporters

“What would happen if you went and reported someone for making homophobic comments to a steward or the police? Nothing. That’s what I think would happen.”

Emergence

A recent BBC 5live survey showed that 8% of fans would turn their backs on their team if they had an openly gay footballer. A percentage that Beasley believes is worryingly “high”.

“They say, on one hand, they’re fanatical about supporting their club. On the other, if you get a gay player which doesn’t affect you in any way shape or form, in fact makes no difference to your life whatsoever, you’re just going to quit supporting your team? It seems barmy to me.”

Until the Football Association have an openly gay player to support, Beasley believes it’s always going to be tricky for them

“It’s difficult for the FA, I’m always kicking them, always! But it is difficult and always will be till they have a gay player to support. At the moment it’s all just words.”

But the Birmingham Blaze chairman remains positive: “Things will change, maybe not in the near future, but they will.

“We’re seeing now an emergence of LGBT fan groups at various clubs and with this, we may get a different response down the line.”

Football’s Coming Out is published by Floodlit Dreams Ltd (£9.99 Amazon)