How do you save the European Championships?

As I write this Portugal have just been crowned champions of Europe but lets be honest it hasn’t been a great tournament, the number of truly exciting games can probably be counted on one hand. There have been some great goals and brilliant individual performances but I have a feeling Euro 2016 will be remembered as the tournament where no one tried to lose rather than try to win.

So what can be done? Well it seems ridiculous that by finishing third in your group it was possible to qualify for the knockout rounds so a format re-jig seems a must do. What does UEFA do with a 24 team tournament, stick with it? Decrease to 16 teams? Or increase to 32 teams? Well lets be honest a 16 team tournament is never going to happen ever again because 8 less teams means 20 less games (a 16 team Euro 2012 had 31 games compared to 51 games in a 24 team Euro 2016) and fewer games means a big drop in income so that is the end of that. Does UEFA increase the tournament to 32 teams? I certainly hope not because with Kosovo recently becoming UEFA’s 55th member we would be faced with a situation were it virtually impossible for any half decent team not to be able to reach the finals because a country could probably finish 4th in their qualifying group and still progress.

My solution? Stick with 24 teams but change the format. The on the pitch stuff during the Euro’s might not have been great but the fans of Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Iceland et al have certainly enhanced the tournament and I would hate for “smaller” countries to have that carrot taken away from them by reducing the tournament size (which as I’ve already explained probably won’t happen) So how would I change the European Championship? Well this tournament has shown a format consisting of 6 groups of 4 does not work because it encourages many teams to play in a negative style so I would change to 8 groups of 3, I would also get rid of the last 16 so only the 8 group winners would qualify for the quarter finals. I can understand that many might see that one team in every group would not play during the last round of group fixtures and that would be a disadvantage but I believe it’d force teams to play attacking football in order to win games because 4-6 points from 2 games would almost certainly be enough to win the group so any team that wins their opening two games would have no disadvantage at all if they didn’t play during the last round of group fixtures. An 8×3 group format is the only way I can think of right now that would make every game in a 24 team tournament a must win game and reduce the negativity that has plagued Euro 2016 and after all isn’t it the duty of the teams to provide somekind of entertainment for the fans?

I don’t suppose UEFA big wigs read random WordPress blogs but just incase they do get in tough because right now I might just be able to help out.

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Say it ain’t so Oscar…..

de-la-hoya-vs-forbesAt the age of 42 the Golden Boy Oscar De La Hoya is talking up the possibility of a comeback to boxing. Seven years since he was destroyed by Manny Pacquiao in his last pro fight De La Hoya wants to fight either the current pound 4 pound king Floyd Mayweather, who beat DLH in 2007 in what was then the richest fight in history, or the Kazakh middleweight king Gennady Golovkin, widely regarded as the hardest puncher in the world.

So despite winning ten world titles in six weight divisions why make a comeback? De La Hoya says he misses the competition and that 42 is the 32 but the sceptic in me and I’d guess most people know it’s all about the Dollars. The Golden Boy earned that nickname for a reason, during his Hall of Fame career De La Hoya generated over $700million in pay per view revenue and money is surely the only reason De La Hoya would possibly want a rematch vs. Mayweather. Despite the closeness of their 1st fight in which many people scored the fight as a DLH win it is impossible to imagine a 42 year old who has been out of the ring for seven years having even an outside chance of beating a fighter who has mastered the art of defence however it is inevitable that even a fight which is certain to be so one sided would generate enough money to enter the top 5 richest fights of all time.

Gennady-Golovkin-WBA-IBO-middleweight-titlesIf a Mayweather rematch would make De La Hoya a winner financially then a fight against Golovkin would be nothing short of a disaster for the Golden Boy. In 2008 De La Hoya was beaten up for eight rounds by the naturally smaller Manny Pacquiao which ended his career so the prospect surely taking up to 12 rounds of punishment versus the naturally bigger middleweight Golovkin, universally recognised as the world’s toughest puncher, is something no sane 42 year old would surely agree to. It is impossible to imagine the odds on a De La Hoya win being anything other than at least 100/1 and that those are normally the kind of odds for when a World Champion fights a no hoper which unfortunately De La Hoya would be versus Golovkin.

oscar-de-la-hoya-vs_323x216Why do so many legendary boxers not know how to say “enough is enough?” De La Hoya has beaten 17 world champions, been involved in several of the biggest fights in history and won world titles at featherweight, lightweight, light-welterweight, welterweight, light-middleweight and middleweight yet even that doesn’t seem enough for the Golden Boy. Apart from George Foreman has any boxer ever made a successful comeback after years of inactivity? To see legends such as Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roy Jones, James Toney, Ricky Hatton, Evander Holyfield et al either make unsuccessful comebacks or just carry on fighting too long as a shadow of their former self is amongst the saddest things a human being can ever wish to see. What does Oscar De La Hoya possibly hope to achieve from making a comeback? To be remembered as a once great fighter who couldn’t say no to the lure of a comeback and more importantly the money that would be made from stepping back into the ring. I want to remember the Golden Boy as a fighter who was a pound 4 pound king in the late 90’s and who was involved in several of the biggest fights of his century, not as someone who convinced himself that he could beat Golovkin but instead was KOed within a couple of rounds whilst taking one hell of a beating.

Perhaps Al Haymon is the true reason behind De La Hoya’s possible comeback? Golden Boy Promotions was perhaps the most influential promotional company in boxing for several years until Al Haymon started signing up many of Golden Boy Promotions star fighters leaving the promoter De La Hoya with few superstar fighters to promote. De La Hoya has notoriously batted alcohol and drug addictions in the past and maybe it is wrong to assume money is the only motive behind a comeback, maybe stepping into the ring is an addiction you don’t know you have until you stop doing it and maybe life as a promoter helped De La Hoya take his mind off that particular addiction. Oscar De La Hoya is the only person in the entire world who knows the entire truth about why he’d want to make a comeback but from the outside looking in there are so many reasons to speculate about. I don’t want to see the Golden Boy surrounded by yes men telling him he can beat Golovkin, I also don’t want to see Golovkin seriously hurting De La Hoya which he undoubtedly would do. At the same time I don’t want to see De La Hoya make a low key comeback and lose to nobody’s who wouldn’t have had a chance of even beating him in their dreams when the Golden Boy was in his prime.

To be entirely honest I just don’t want to see De La Hoya fight anyone ever again full stop.

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The Alternative 8

It has been quite some time since i last posted on here but an old friend from university inspired me with a St Patrick’s day themed piece he wrote on another site about Ireland’s 8 greatest sports people. Needless to say it created some debate between us so i thought i’d list an alternative 8 greats of Irish sport.

Shay Elliott

shay elliott It felt only right to start with someone who perhaps wasn’t the biggest name, even his own sport, but rather could be described as a trailblazer in the late 1950’s and 1960’s. Along with Reg Harris, Brian Robinson and Tom Simpson, Elliott surely goes down as 1 of the first true cycling greats from the English speaking world.

Most of his pro career was spent as a domestique to five time Tour de France winner Jacques Anquetil but inbetween helping Monsieur Chrono to win after win he found time to finish 3rd in a Grand Tour (1962 Vuelta) finish 2nd in the World Championship road race (1962) become the first Irishman to wear the legendary Tour de France yellow jersey (1963) and win stages in all 3 of cycling’s Grand Tour’s. Shay Elliott might not quite have the Palmarès that one would associate with the greats of cycling like Merckx, Coppi, Van Loy or Anquetil but purely for laying the foundations for the likes of Roche, Kelly et al he deserves to be recognized as a great trailblazer of Irish sport. Sadly Elliott’s life ended in 1971 but fittingly Ireland’s most prestigious 1 day bike race is named the Shay Elliott Memorial Race.

 

Sean Kelly

sean kellyAfter Shay Elliott it seems only right to feature Ireland’s greatest cyclist of all time, Sean Kelly. In the post Eddie Merckx era there have been plenty of serial winners in cycling but few can claim a Palmarès as great as Kelly’s;

1988 Vuelta a Espana winner (plus 16 stage wins + 4 points jerseys between 1980-88)

4 Tour de France green jersey’s between 1982-89+ 5 stage wins

7 x winner of Paris-Nice between 1982-88

9 Monument classics (2 x Milan – Sanremo, 2 x Paris – Roubaix, 2 x Liege-Bastogne-Liege, 3 x Giro di Lombardia)

They are just the major wins of Sean Kelly’s career, to list all his wins would take a long, long time, Kelly is perhaps the greatest cyclist never to win the World Championship road race and along with the Tour of Flanders they are the only major 1 days races missing from the CV of 1 of the all time great winners in 1 day bicycle racing.

 

Stephen Roche

Stephen rocheThe final cyclist on this list is Stephen Roche,  who in 1987 became the 1st and so far only Irishman to ride into Paris and cycle along the Champs-Élysées wearing the yellow jersey. For most cyclists a Tour de France would be enough to constitute a great year, not Stephen Roche. Prior to winning a maillot jaune Roche had already won the Giro d’Italia and later that summer would triumph in the World Championship road race, 2 Grand Tour’s and a world title in the space of a couple of months is the kind of season most can only dream of having.

 

Henry Shefflin

Henry Shefflin is a sportsman virtually unknown outside of Ireland but if Sean Kelly is Ireland’s greatest winner in cyclingHenry Shefflin then Shefflin surely goes down in the history books as Ireland’s greatest winner full stop and perhaps the greatest living Irish sportsman. A hurling superstar for the county of Kilkenny his collection of winner’s medals is so big that should any museum ever convince him to put them on display they may well have to build a brand new wing to accommodate the collection. representing Kilkenny’s all conquering Hurling team Shefflin can boast to winning 5 National Hurling League titles, 13 Leinster championships and 10 All-Ireland championships, at club level representing Ballyhale Shamrocks he has a mere 5 Kilkenny titles, 3 Leinster titles and 3 All-Ireland club titles. In total Shefflin has 39 winners medals at club and county level and all this is made even more incredible by the GAA’s staunch stand on amateurism, during the week Henry Shefflin is a bank worker, at the weekend he is Ireland’s greatest sportsman, if that isn’t a Roy of the Rovers tale i don’t know what is?

 

Paul McGrath

paul mcgrathLong before Roy Keane stuck the fear of god into opposition players there was another Irish tough man at Manchester United who gave centre forwards sleepless nights and some might say that without McGrath there would be no Keane. McGrath was the key man in the Ireland team of the 1980’s + 90’s that finally went from nearly men to finally qualifying for major tournaments under Jack Charlton. McGrath played in Euro 88 and the 1990 + 1994 World Cup’s and was involved in perhaps Irish football’s 2 greatest moments; the victory over England at Euro 88 and the World Cup win vs Italy at Giants Stadium in the summer of 1994, in which he produced 1 of the great individual performances ever seen by an Irish footballer to mark Roberto Baggio out the game. Of course McGrath had his flaws, he was a notorious alcoholic but he was also a human being but those flaws made him even greater.

 

Barry McGuigan

barry mcguiganTo include someone who took up British citizenship in a list of great Irish sportsmen might seem somewhat controversial but as he was born in county Monaghan and in my books that makes it is impossible to exclude the Clones Cyclone from this list. The man was a great fighter, for anyone of a certain age he is 1 of the first names to come up if you ask who their favourite boxer is, but the man is also a great humanitarian. McGuigan boasted a record of 32-3 (28 KO’s) and was WBA Featherweight champion of the world in the mid 1980’s but perhaps his greatest achievement was to promote the idea of peace between Catholic’s and Protestant’s in Northern Ireland, “Leave the fighting to Barry” was a slogan used regularly in the 1980’s and it does make you wonder if McGuigan did far more than any politician to try to end the troubles. Nowadays Barry is still involved in boxing, he promotes Belfast’s outstanding IBF super bantamweight world champion Carl Frampton whilst his son Shane trains Frampton and became the youngest ever person to train a world champion.

 

Steve Collins

steve collinsThe Celtic Warrior, 2 weight world champion, was 1 of many outstanding middleweights and super middleweights from the British Isles to shoot to international stardom in the 1990’s. After dominating Irish amateur boxing Steve Collins took a path heavily trodden by his fellow countrymen by moving to Boston in his early 20’s where he would go on to turn pro and fight out of the Petronelli gym made famous by hall of fame middleweight Marvelous Marvin Hagler. in 1995 Collins became the first boxer to defeat Chris Eubank and would then go on to beat him again in a rematch before twice beating fellow legendary British 168 lb fighter “The Dark Destroyer” Nigel Benn. Steve Collins would retire with a 36-3 record and 7 successful defenses of the WBO super middleweight world title he won by beating Chris Eubank.

 

Ken Doherty

ken dohertyThe last person to feature on his list is 1997 World Snooker Champion Ken Doherty. He might not have a reputation as 1 of the most glamorous or exciting players to pick up a cue but Doherty was 1 of the few players able to compete with Stephen Hendry at a time when Hendry seemed to win everything in snooker, in fact Doherty beat Hendry 18-12 to win his world title. Twice a runner up at the Crucible it is hard to fathom how a player as dogged and determined as Doherty to date only has 1 world title to his name. As good as Doherty was the 1 abiding memory i have of him is missing the black ball whilst on 140 in the Masters final in 2000 and thus missing out on scoring a 147 maximum break in a major snooker final.

 

Well that’s my list, i don’t expect everyone to agree with it but it has been fun to write, as someone of Irish heritage it has been enjoyable writing about a couple sportsmen i grew up hearing stories about and others i’ve grown up watching.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before…

The Wales vs England rugby league international this afternoon made for embarrassing viewing as another nail was hammered into the international rugby league coffin. I sincerely hope i am wrong but given this time next year the World Cup kicks off today’s 14 try thrashing of Wales does the international game no favours.

The sport needs teams other than Australia, New Zealand and England to perform well, France, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Samoa seem to be in the middle ground where they seem too strong to be classed as minnows but only occasionally give the big boys a game for 80 minutes. As for the minnows at the level before those teams i worry that today’s result will send organizers into a panic and just like in 2000 the Wales, Scotland & Ireland teams will suddenly fill up with Aussies and Kiwis who upon realizing they have no chance of playing for their country of birth will discover they have a granny from Aberdare, Ayr or Armagh and switch countries for a month then back in time for the new season when they might just have a chance of becoming a Kangaroo or Kiwi. A 10 team World Cup has to be questioned, perhaps a better idea would be for a five/six nations tournament to take place under the guise of the World Cup featuring Australia, New Zealand England plus a couple of qualifiers meaning only the very best will compete and hopefully mismatches would be avoided.

To see Wales plummit to such a low is sad to see, in the era of professional rugby union Wales have barely managed to be competitive vs England for a half let alone a full 80 minutes which tells you everything you need to know, long gone are the days of the very best Welsh players switching codes for various reasons. The salary cap is perhaps the number 1 reason i can think of because after the majority of top Superleague clubs, i’m sure, can compete financially with the Welsh RU (and for that matter the Scottish RU and maybe Irish RU) when it comes to wages but such a small salary cap (around £1.7million) makes signing a player with no rugby league background on a big contract a major gamble but several Superleague have decided to take the cheap route by signing Welsh and Irish teenagers and educating them in the ways of rugby league so maybe if all that works out maybe in 5 years or so there will be more Welsh born players in Superleague hopefully creating a strong Welsh national team, the fact that all the English Superleague teams rather than  just a few aren’t scouting south Wales, Ireland and Scotland for the best young rugby players is a missed opportunity at the moment. The Crusaders Superleague franchise did unearth a couple of decent Welsh players such as Ben Flower, Gil Dudson and Elliot Kear who were snapped up as soon as the Crusaders imploded but one must consider their tenure in Superleague as a failure because they failed to deliver a squad mostly composed of Welsh players, that is were the Catalans franchise has delivered because they have a squad were the French players outnumber the imports and them challenging for a grand final place would no longer be a surprise.

To conclude, i admit i have been somewhat negative about international rugby league but its hard not to be after today, England have gained nothing, if anything a big win vs a minnow gives them false hope when it comes to matches versus the Aussies and Kiwis but what can they do? The NRL objected to England touring New Zealand and the Pacific islands this autumn because they didn’t want their players getting even more tired so England were left with the choice of no matches or a mismatch vs Wales and perhaps a tough 40/50 minutes vs France and they took the second option. I will finish with my suggestion for a better Autumn series, i think a tri series between Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cumbria/rest of England rep. teams would provide far more competitive end of season matches, the only problem would be players not playing together as England but it would almost be like a trial for players hoping to be selected by England for the World Cup, given that rugby league is now a 17, rather than 13, a side game a tri series would also create a pool of the 51 best English players.

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PNE vs MK Dons, a few thoughts

I write this post the Friday prior to the Preston North End vs Milton Keynes Dons match, i intend to be as objective as a PNE fan can be but two things grabbed my attention day and i wish to talk about them,

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/19860805

http://www.miltonkeynes.co.uk/news/your-dons-say-can-style-defeat-substance-1-4364280

to quote Karl Robinson,
“It must be really nice [at Preston] to have the finances to bring in who you want. We obviously can’t do that here.”

It seems mr Robinson is extremely misinformed, over the past couple of years PNE have been a club in financial crisis reliant on an old man with some money to keep them alive, years of managers like Paul Simpson, Alan Irvine, Darren Ferguson and Phil Brown wasting money on dreadful players on wages far too high for a club like Preston to be able to afford left us, rumors they might be but if you believe what you read Neil Mellor was paid £14k a week (in Championship and about half that in league 1) and even more jaw dropping Ian Ashbee, 1 of the worst players i have ever seen in a Preston North End shirt was paid £24k a week at 1 point if you believe the rumors.

Perhaps the best thing that has happened to PNE in the 10 years since David Moyes left was Graham Westley coming in. He might not be popular outside of clubs he’s managed but his mass clear out of the playing staff in the summer along with Peter Ridsdale’s off the field cost cutting might have just saved the future of PNE for now. Only 1 current player, Stuart Beavon, cost any money and the rest were signed on free transfers, fans of the likes of Tranmere, Stevenage, etc who we got players from seem to think we are paying mega wages, ignoring the fact they might just see us as having a better chance of progressing to a higher level, when the truth is for the first time in years we are finally paying wages we can afford, the highest paid player at PNE is on about £2.5/3k a week depending who you believe. So Karl Robinson before you start talking about a club you have no idea about tell me how much some of your players are on? This season have Alan Smith, Jimmy Bullard, Luke Chadwick been playing for free?

The second link is a post from a local paper in the Milton Keynes which can only be described as a joke because i had a laugh whilst reading it.

“The Dons have technical skill, patience and an aesthetically pleasing style”

Are Brazil coming to Preston on Sunday? where are PNE are just another big bad Graham Westley team.

“Preston have pace, power, aggression and will be cynical when they need to be – like all Graham Westley sides.”

“If Preston are victorious on Sunday, no amount of foot-stomping over bullying tactics and claims that the Dons play ‘real football’ will get back those three lost points.”

“The Dons need to be wary of two things going into Sunday’s encounter. Firstly, they must try to avoid getting wound up by the Preston players. Westley’s sides, despite his claims that it is an unfair reputation, are well-versed in the art of gamesmanship: niggling fouls, time wasting and going to ground easily.”

Enough of the bulls**t about Graham Westley, how on earth can you make such claims without seeing the team actually play? PNE have scored 34 goals so far this season in all competitions, maybe if the writer of the article had seen Preston play he’d describe our style as an “aesthetically pleasing style” after all surely its impossible to score that many goals just playing hoof ball tactics? why does everyone assume Preston play like Stevenage c.2012? We’re no worse than any other club in the division, have you seen Crawley or 1 or 2 other clubs in league 1 play? Greg Abbott of Carlisle accused us of gamesmanship after a JPT match earlier this season but neglected to mention the player Carlisle had sent off, the other player they could have had sent off and the time wasting tactics to get to penalties (which they lost)

Graham Westley is hated in the media by people who probably don’t even know who he is but because its fashionable to dislike him they do so, other managers seem to decide at the beginning of the season that if they lose to him its not their fault Westley must have cheated somehow. Preston seem to get little if any credit, i.e after the 4-1 win vs Swindon due to the antic’s of Paulo Di Canio there was little mention in the media of how Preston won it was alla bout how Swindon “lost”. The idea of being a club no one likes appeals to me, gone are the days when we were mediocre and people almost felt sorry for us. I don’t care if you don’t like Preston North End, i know you’re wrong, but don’t judge us until you’ve seen us play.

There i’ve got through an entire post without mentioning my dislike for MK Don’s inception, i will however end with a question i’ve always wanted to know the answer to? Why do they still have “dons” still in their title? It’s like they’re sticking their middle finger up at every Wimbledon fan, why not just change their name to Milton Keynes FC or MK United, etc and finally move on…

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Loopy local musicians hoping to make it big


Tom

Formed in 2008 Preston’s Mobius Loop are hoping 2011 is the year they make it big. The band, consisting of brothers Alex and Sean O’Hara, Tom Robinson, Nathan Bowe and David Watkins, have spent the previous two years playing around the pubs, bars and music venues of Preston with the occasional venture outside Preston including several tours of London which have involved performing in pubs and squatting in abandoned flats. However 2011 if all goes to plan is the year they hope to make a break though and gain recognition from somewhere other than the sleepy little musical outpost we call Preston.

I never learned to sing (live recording)
http://boos.audioboo.fm/swf/fullsize_player.swf

The five piece describe themselves as reggae folk and because of this they perhaps need more than one listen to appreciate their music. Their influences are wide and varied from Caribbean and folk music to what you could describe as poetic rock n roll and after listening to their music you hear the influence of poetic lyricists such as Jim Morrison or Ray Davies whose music they regularly cover in their live performances. The band regularly host open mic nights at the Mad Ferret which has allowed them to duet with several other members of Preston’s music scene and further add to their influences, all of this has lead to gradual building of an ever increasing fan base in Preston.

The band shore their more light hearted side.

As for finding out any information about future live shows http://www.myspace.com/mobiusloopmusic or looking them up on facebook are perhaps the best place to check however due to the regularity they spring up unannounced at other peoples gigs or your average open mic night you have a good chance of stumbling across a Mobius Loop live performance by doing something as simple as going to a pub in Preston on an average weeknight.

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Harris museum opens its galleries to local artists

December marks another chapter in the Harris Museum’s Harris Open exhibition, an annual exhibit which allows local artists a chance to showcase their work. The exhibition runs all throughout December and as well as giving local artists a platform it also allows them to put their work in the shop window as the works of art can be purchased from the Harris Museum.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The subject range of paintings is eclectic with there being paintings of everyone and everything from Keith Richards, Phil Collins and Jack Nicholson to Preston bus station, Market street chippy and the Harris museum itself. There are also several interesting sculptures such the chair and person wrapped in black and yellow tape or the spider made of wire or the minute version of Michael Jackson.

Vodpod videos no longer available.
Vodpod videos no longer available.

The standard of the artwork is high for amateur artists with some of the works being valued as high as two thousand pounds. The timing of the exhibit just before Christmas is crucial as well because the exhibition allows local artists to make money from their work whilst giving buyers a chance to buy a work of art as a present for a loved one.

http://boos.audioboo.fm/swf/fullsize_player.swf

The Harris Open exhibition runs until 31st December on the Harris museum second floor and like the majority of their exhibits admission is free. Why not get down there before the end of the month to see what artists in our region have created over the past 12 months and maybe even pick up a bargain piece of art to give a loved one for Christmas?

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