The festive holidays are one that we all relish but often we find the time off disappears before we know it. In fact, Christmas turkeys, crackers and glorious mulled wine seem a distant fading memory right now.
But as Christmas departs a new year begins and with that fresh optimism is born. (could it really be England’s year?)
With us now already a week into 2018, it’s time to look forward and see what the sporting calendar has in store for us. It promises to be a jam-packed 12 months!
Here are my Top 10 events for the year to come:
Any event which includes a sport where four athletes race from the top of a mountain to the bottom as fast as they can is a winner in my book. Of course, Ski – Cross is just one of many exhilarating sports the Winter Olympics has on offer. Even the staunchest traditionist would struggle not to get excited at the prospect of an athlete hurling themselves downhill on what is effectively a dinner tray at up to 80 mph.
After a month of snow-related sports, you might be in need of some sun. So from South Korea, we move our attention to the Gold Coast. The 21st Commonwealth Games and what a fabulous location for them indeed. Will England’s male sprinters stand up and put on another gold winning performance like they did last year at the World Championships in London whilst representing Team GB? Can anyone get near Adam Peaty in the 100m Breaststroke? Heptathlete Katarina Johnson – Thompson competes in her first games and will be aiming for a podium finish.
You’ll have to be on your A-Game to make sure you don’t miss out on any sport in an action-packed April. Although the picturesque sight of the 13th at Augusta will be enough to convince you that you really don’t need that seven hours of sleep you had previously promised yourself…
Always one of the standout weekends in the sporting calendar, the history of the Cup speaks for itself. This year there’s a twist. With the Royal Wedding scheduled for the same date, HRH Prince William will be relieved that his beloved Aston Villa were knocked out in the 3rd round of the competition.
The groups have been drawn, the fixture dates have been released, football’s biggest competition is starting to feel very close. Can Gareth Southgate’s men find the blend between attacking football and winning games that England fans so desperately crave?
Wimbledon is certainly one of the classiest events in the sporting calendar. An event steeped in rich history and traditions. Homemade strawberries and cream accompanied with a Pimm’s is mandatory of course, but would you want it any other way?
Time will tell if Murray Mount will get to see their namesake at this year’s tournament but in Johanna Konta the Brits have a new fan favourite to get behind.
Not only is it the first time the women’s World Cup has been hosted in the UK, it’s also expected to be the biggest hockey event ever in the UK. The English team are currently ranked 2nd in the World behind the Netherlands. Can they build on the success from the Commonwealth Games earlier in the year perhaps?
Three games of cricket sandwiched into one day. Finals Day guarantees to deliver roller-coaster finishes, monster hits, fancy dress and a good old sing along. You won’t be left disappointed.
A sport which is well known for its individual competitiveness, but when Europe take on the USA all bets are off. There is always a twist and a turn during a Ryder Cup weekend. Who can forget the Miracle at Medinah in 2012?
Can they do the double? With the World Cup ODI trophy in the bag from last year, England will be looking to return home from the West Indies with the World Twenty20 trophy too. In the meantime, let’s reminisce about one of the best sporting moments of 2017.
“Wait, what’s that?”
As Christmas approaches, you might be forgiven for wondering if the faint whistle you hear as the snow begins to fall is that of the mystical Polar Express steaming along. Christmas spirit, Christmas cheer!
Alas, you could not be more wrong.
No, it’s nothing Christmassy, or vaguely interesting for that matter. It’s just the Australian hype train, tooting louder and louder as it chugs over the tracks, heading inexorably for total oblivion.
Pre-series wars of words are always drab in international sport, but nobody does mind-numbing tedium with the relentless efficiency of the Australian players and media.
Which leads me to question: Why? Why do they feel the need to do this? Why must we repeat this exasperating routine with the predictability of a mid-game Andy Murray grimace?
They do it because they are worried. And well they should be.
Ignore the hype, and forget the experts (that one’s for you, Mr Gove), England are coming home with the Ashes.
All the pre-series chatter predictably focussed around the absence of Ben Stokes, but the make-up of England’s side is pretty much settled upon for the first Test.
The same can’t be said of Australia, whose erratic selection panel have landed upon the perfect mathematical formula for complete disarray. Talented opener Matt Renshaw has been dropped for debutant Cameron Bancroft. Wicketkeeper Tim Paine has been ferried back from the underworld by Charon for his first Test appearance in 7 millennia. Shaun Marsh has been recalled for the 950th time to plug a middle order gap with an even larger middle order gap.
Chaos theory. Good stuff selectors.
By contrast, the English side is largely settled. Mark Stoneman is the new Andrew Strauss but better, and Dawid Malan has nailed down the 5 spot by dispatching teenagers to the boundary ropes in warm-up matches. Stokes’s absence is a shame, but opens the door for Woakes, Moeen and Bairstow to move up the order, and another bowler to show that they are equally angry and prone to profanity as our dear Ben.
Winkling out Wickets
For all that Mitchell Johnson brought fire and brimstone in the last Tour down under, the metronomic control of Ryan Harris at the other end stemmed the run rate and tied down the England batsman.
Then enter into the equation that Tim Bresnan (the cricketing equivalent of James Milner) had an unbelievable series in Australia, and you realise it isn’t that difficult after all.
Broad and Anderson may not have express speed, but they are cunning operators – and are far less likely to break down with injury during the series. And for all that Cummins and Starc are quick, their bowling will be far more likely to disappear to the boundary should they get it wrong.
How they compare:
So, all things considered, how does a composite Australia-England XI actually look?
David Warner vs Alastair Cook
One is angry, punchy and moustachioed, one is handsome, stoic and clean-shaven. Unfortunately the former is scoring far more runs.
Cameron Bancroft vs Mark Stoneman
Two Ashes debutants, but Stoneman’s experience and rock-solid personality means he partners Warner at the top of our order.
Usman Khawaja vs James Vince
James Vince is about as reliable as Robert Mugabe reading a resignation speech. Khawaja all the way.
Steve Smith vs Joe Root
Steve. Smith. Most boring name in the world? Yes. Most overrated player in the world? Maybe. National treasure and God’s messenger on earth like Joe Root? Absolutely not.
Peter Handscomb vs Dawid Malan
Battle of the incredibly average nobody’s. Give it to Handscomb, though I’m not sure anybody cares.
Tim Paine vs Jonny Bairstow
Tim is not even the most famous T-Pain in the world. The ginger messiah crushes his opposite number under the sheer weight of never-ending runs.
Shaun Marsh vs Chris Woakes
Mismatch as they won’t occupy the same place in the order, but Chris Woakes is mustard and has only been dropped once by England. Shaun Marsh gets dropped three times a year.
Lyon vs Moeen Ali
Sometimes, cricket isn’t that important. Moeen’s beard 1 – Nathan Lyon’s beard – 0.
Mitchell Starc – Craig Overton/Jake Ball
Begrudgingly, Mitchell Starc is quite good at cricket.
Pat Cummins – Stuart Broad
Pat Cummins is as likely to tear his hamstring while eating his cheerios as to take wickets, so as he sits out most of the series injured Stuart will be making Broad inroads into the Australian batting.
Josh Hazlewood – James Anderson
Jimmy is one of the greatest bowlers in the history of Test cricket. Josh Hazlewood is a village cricket pie-chucker. No comparison.
England to win the series 3-2 and retain the Ashes. No draws because nobody can bat.
It’s not often that you are given the chance to be coached by a former England manager, but that’s exactly what happened earlier this week when I visited the Soccerdome in London to take part in a coaching session organised by The PHA Group client FTBPro.
30 writers from the FTBPro website- the largest fan-generated media platform in global football – won a competition to be part of a training session with Glenn Hoddle and his team of England youth coaches. And thanks to a very kind boss I was also invited to take part!
We began the day with a light warm up and then we were split into four groups. After playing a few games against each other, which involved dribbling and passing between cones, we progressed into some small sided games under the watchful eye of Glenn Hoddle himself.
Glenn stopped us in our tracks a couple of times to give some advice but on the whole, he let us play as we wanted. It took me a while to get into the game but after a few decent touches and a couple of off the ball runs he acknowledged me and said he could tell that I had played at a good level. It’s not every day you receive praise from a former England manager!
Not that it matters too much but we lost the first game 2-1, drew the second 2-2 and in the third and final game we drew 1-1.
We finished off with some shooting from outside the 18-yard box. We were split into three groups, one group on the outside left of the area, one group on the outside right and one in the middle. I was in the middle group. We were told that we had to be on the move when striking the ball so either a teammate would have to set it up for you or you could take a touch out of your feet and hit it.
I happened to have the ball at my feet and Glenn Hoddle was standing with his back to goal on the penalty spot. So I took my chance and fizzed the ball into him and shouted left, luckily he was switched on and he set the ball back to me and I curled a shot just over the bar. It would have been better if it had gone in but nevertheless I can still say that I played a one-two with a man who won 53 England caps and managed his country!
Out of four shots, three hit the target and I scored one which, for a fullback, are pretty good statistics.
We then all had the chance to have our picture taken with Glenn and as I approached him and shook his hand he asked me who I played for. I answered that I played for Royston Town FC and, as it turns out, Glenn is actually good friends with a few of the coaches at the club…..hopefully he’ll put in a good word for me!
After some lunch, we finished with a Q and A session with Glenn. He was more than happy to share stories with us about his career and give us some insight into how he thinks England will perform at this summer’s World Cup:
“A European team has never won the World Cup in South America so the most important thing for England this time around is to give the younger players as much experience as possible and the only way to do that is to go as far as they can in the tournament.
“The best player I ever played against was Maradona. When you look at the way he singlehandedly helped Argentina win the World Cup in 1986, for me I hold him in higher regard than Messi or Ronaldo.
“The best goal I ever scored was against Manchester United in 1979. It’s the goal that gave me the best feeling”. (That was the goal that produced the iconic image, many will remember, of Glenn Hoddle floating in the air as he connected with a scissor kick volley to score).
“Paul Gascoigne, Paul Ince and a pint of Guinness” he said, discussing England’s heroic draw with Italy in 1997 to qualify for the 1998 World Cup.
On modern football coaching styles, he was asked… Mourinho’s style of play or Guardiola’s? “I prefer my own” he said.
Overall it was a pleasure to meet Glenn Hoddle and it’s obvious that he still lives and breathes football. He certainly still has a lot to offer the game and I’m sure it won’t be too long before we see him standing in the dugout again.
To find out more about FTBpro visit www.ftbpro.com or on Twitter @FTBpro
On Tuesday night, ‘boo’s swept round Wembley for the second time in five days. Two defeats at home is hardly reason to be optimistic as we look towards next summer’s World Cup. When the shortcomings are this obvious – and with the World Cup draw just round the corner on December 6th – one thing is for sure; Roy Hodgson has plenty to consider with just one game remaining before he names his preliminary 30 man squad.
I suppose the only consolation is that, unlike in previous years, nobody actually expects us to win the World Cup this time around. And so at least we will be saved the embarrassment of a nation heaping unrealistic expectations on an England team ahead of a major international tournament.
Just over a month has passed since England secured their qualification with a win against Poland and the team’s performances in the last two games are certain to leave Roy Hodgson with a pounding headache.
When you’re playing teams like Chile and Germany, first and foremost you need to be competitive. And, in phases, you have to say that England were. That said, as is often the case in international football, the winning margin was decided by such a fine line.
The concern though – aside from both results – was the lack of ideas, imagination and creativity that England displayed in both games. Surprisingly their vulnerability at the back has also been exposed, which is strange, given that only Spain conceded fewer goals than England’s four during qualification.
In my opinion too many players were used. Yes, Roy Hodgson wants to review players like Lallana, Henderson and Rodriquez on the international stage but with just one friendly game remaining against Denmark in March before Hodgson must name his initial squad, it’s clear that he still doesn’t yet know what his best starting eleven is. And that, to me, is worrying. I wonder if the same can be said for the likes of Spain, Germany or Brazil.
Will Joe Hart be England number one? Does Roy Hodgson go with Leighton Baines or Ashley Cole at left back? Who partners Phil Jagielka at centre half?
Phil Jones struggled against Chile and the same can be said of Gary Cahill. Meanwhile on Tuesday night Chris Smalling didn’t perform at his best.
Who plays at right back; Glen Johnson or Kyle Walker? For me Kyle Walker is fantastic going forward but he leaves the side exposed at the back. Before a major international tournament it is crucial that a manager settles on a back four. Roy needs to make this decision and whoever he picks needs to play together to develop an understanding in advance.
To me, though, it is clear that England’s defence at the moment is missing a big name like John Terry or Rio Ferdinand; someone who is going to be the leader we need and will bring experience. But would a call from Roy Hodgson change either of their minds about coming out of retirement?
Put simply, there are too many questions and not enough answers.
In the Germany game, England did not even manage a shot on target; the first time that has happened at home since the Scotland game in 1999. In the absence of shooting accuracy, a solid defence becomes even more crucial.
In midfield England were certainly left exposed against Germany. The likes of Toni Kroos, Mario Goetze played well and showed their class. And with players like Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil and Bastian Schweinsteiger not even on the pitch, Germany has creative midfield match winners in abundance. Alexis Sanchez offered a similar threat in the Chile game.
England, on the other hand, benefit from the pace of Andros Townsend, who did play considerably well in the game last night. And when Theo Walcott is fit he can strike fear into any defender….but question marks remain in place around the quality of the final ball. Yes, we can call upon the experience of Captain Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, but both player lack that added creativity and explosiveness that we became accustomed to seeing earlier in their careers. That creative spark over time, could, I believe, come from someone like Jack Wilshere but a lot will depend on whether he can stay fit.
Wayne Rooney, on a good day, remains one of the world’s best players. He is by far one of England’s most important players. With Andy Carroll and Danny Welbeck injured, Jemain Defoe benched and Rickie Lambert relatively inexperienced, the question of who partners Rooney up front remains unanswered.
Given his form so far this season Daniel Sturridge is in the best position to wear the number 9 shirt in Brazil. But for me, he needs to offer more in an England shirt and he lacks consistency. Playing alongside Suarez week in week out should certainly help here!
I think that, as a nation, we realise that we are no longer part of the world’s elite and that, more realistically, we find ourselves part of a group of second tier teams that, with a favourable draw, could make the quarter finals at best. So do we accept that we are not going to win the World Cup (in all honestly many of us already have!) and opt to give younger players vital tournament experience, building for the future?
One thing that Roy Hodgson has learned in the last two games is that the task facing in him Brazil is going to be incredibly tough. Unlike in previous tournaments though, when England were expected to win, this England side is a work in progress and the expectation of the nation remains grounded; all be it firmly in Roy Hodgson’s hands.
Who knows what will happen in Brazil, but all eyes will now be on the draw on December 6th. Let’s hope for a group of hope rather than the dreaded group of death.
Put yourself in the shoes of Roy Hodgson now and pick your England squad for the World Cup. Here’s mine:
Alex Oxlade Chamberlain
Cricket! And what’s in store for Captain Cook’s men? The opportunity to reach hero status once more, just as the tribe did under Strauss’ direction when they retained the Ashes in Australia in 2010/11.
Albeit overshadowed slightly by stories of transfer deadlines, wage battles and poor refereeing in the mainstream sports news agenda, a national passion for cricket is undoubtedly still present and this will continue to build further as we edge closer to the Ashes Tour. Hats off also to the ever-faithful Barmy Army, currently serving time in New Zealand, whose trumpeting tones are a refreshing reminder that the gentleman’s game still attracts an impressive level of support, while never taking itself too seriously.
As a lifelong cricket fan myself, I am always pleased to speak to others who follow the sport all year round and not just as an excuse for an all-inclusive trip to Australia or a session of Aussie-bashing. Having said that, when Clarke brings his men here this summer, I will not shy away from joining in, regardless of my girlfriend’s nationality. “Can I wear my Australia shirt to Lords? No”.
This summer, I predict business as usual for England. Thankfully, recent English success against Australia means I can say this with a sizeable degree of certainty. While I’m sure each test will be as hard-fought as always, with ‘Mitchell Johnson’ chants ringing around every ground that he visits, I cannot help but predict an England victory before many have even looked further than the current series in NZ. As much as I would love to go on about the multitude of strengths of each player in the England squad, the main reason for my placing us as firm favourites this summer is not so much due to our fantastic bowling attack and ever-improving top seven, but more so due to the lack of form and poor discipline from our opponents; the latter of which has been well-documented over the last few weeks. So here I will give my reasons as to why Australia will not win the Ashes, as opposed to why England will.
First and foremost, Australia have just been beaten 3-0 by India; a side which England beat 2-1 earlier in the cricket calendar. I am aware that this was England’s first series win in India since 1984 but the manner in which we won – and the fact that James Anderson’s nine dismissals of once-God Sachin Tendulkar edged the 39 year old closer to retirement – were extremely impressive.
Australia’s performance during their tour of India suggests that their problem is not so much batting, although their opening pair in the form of Cowan and Warner is anything but orthodox. Rather, their bowling attack is a major cause for concern. Yes, Siddle is top class; an old-fashioned, aggressive fast bowler, although a questionable character, but Mitchell Johnson? He has never really put forward a solid reason as to why he continues to be picked. I’ve never seen a bowler capitulate, take a wicket with a full toss, and further capitulate quite to the standard of Johnson. Now he’s been sent home for not doing his homework, so I’m not sure where that leaves him; probably tied up in detention.
At one point I viewed Mitchell Starc as a hot prospect, as is often the case when a young new player enters the fray. But watching him go for 50 off 10 for no return in the final innings of the last test was a ‘starc’ reminder of the problems Australia face in the bowling department.
Lyon and Doherty: spinners who don’t. I position Matt Prior as on a par with Mahendra Singh Dhoni as a wicket-keeper batsman. I also like to think that Prior will take apart the Australian spinners to a similar extent, as will KP…if his love of the big-stage still remains.
Watson, although not the most popular guy amongst opposition (and also known for slacking on the homework front), is a batsman with talent that no-one can knock. With natural ability and an aesthetically pleasing cover drive, he, along with Clarke, will be under pressure to score ‘big hundreds’ so that the bowling mediocrity has some sort of insurance.
I thought Clarke spoke exceptionally well with regard to the recent ill-discipline of four of his team. He is Cricket Australia’s saving grace; a great man and a great cricketer. If the Australian side have anything to celebrate at the moment, it’s Captain Clarke. Let’s hope he’s around for a while longer.
People will point out the inexperience in the Australian team and throw around clichés like ‘building for the future’ and ‘promising young players’. Yes, they are inexperienced, but with the first Ashes test under four months away, experience will not be gained between now and then. I must also point out that I don’t think the younger players are particularly promising.
Under Alistair Cook, English cricket is becoming the pride of the country, which makes a nice change.
My prediction for this summer…..England to win the series 3-0 and the weather taking the obligatory 2 matches.
Word by Ben Cossor.