Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Sports personality? of the year

It’s that time of year again – sleigh bells ring, festive cheer and what better way to celebrate the run-up to Christmas than by choosing your favourite sporting hero of the year!

BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award returns to our lives once again on the 16th of December, and what a competition it will be this year.

Sports Personality of the year, or SPOTY as it is so often referred to, is an interesting event. I can’t decide whether I love it or hate it. Every year it gets more and more glamorous, more and more like the Oscars, but it seems to mean nothing.

Some of the previous winners are very perplexing. Ryan Giggs’ victory in 2009 infuriated me, as he clearly wasn’t the best sportsman of the year and let’s not waste time on his personality.

Other winners such as Zara Phillips, Joe Calzaghe and Greg Rusedski (sorry Greg, you are still my number one) are a huge surprise looking back. What they achieved may have been good for that particular year. But, on reflection, they don’t seem to have achieved nearly as much as those who they beat to/on the podium or any of those even nominated for this year’s award.

Damon Hill won the award twice in three years, something which now seems strange when you consider Lewis Hamilton has only managed to finish second on two occasions, and Jenson Button, who had an extraordinary F1 campaign in 2009, finished behind the aforementioned Giggs.

AP McCoy, who won in 2010, received more votes than any of his four predessors: Zara Phillips (2006), Joe Calzaghe (2007), Sir Chris Hoy (2008) or Ryan Giggs (2009), and received 42% of the vote, winning by a clear margin. I may be being biased against horse racing but this stat also surprises me.

The award in itself is fundamentally flawed. The best sportsman may not have the best personality, nor should he/she, and judging by a fair few of the previous winners it seems that those with personality are deemed to finish second!

The award should be named sportsperson of the year, as this is what indeed the award appears to be trying to achieve. Andy Murray, who is on the shortlist, and has been for the last few years, at least, shouldn’t even be there if it the award is judged on personality as his personality is definitely not what has endeared him to the British public. (See previous blog post).

He is for me, definitely a top three candidate this year. But this decision is so subjective and it depends on which sport people like and understand the most as to how they will vote.

Murray won the US Open and the Olympics. Maybe switch the US Open for Wimbledon, and he would probably be much higher on people’s list. Many in this country see Wimbledon as the be all and end all of tennis as the media coverage is so thorough. However, winning the US Open is just as much of an achievement as winning Wimbledon, or any other slam. It could even be argued it is more of an achievement as Murray had to do so without the home support.

But my ultimate problem with this award is the fact that I really doubt the athletes care as much as everyone else about whether they win this award or not. Do you think Bradley Wiggins was thinking on the start of the time trial: “Now… if I win this Olympic gold to add to my yellow jacket, I will surely receive that weird SPOTY trophy of a camera (wtf!?) at the end of the year, come on Wiggo, push it!” (Yes, I like to imagine that Bradley calls himself Wiggo in his head.)

Or Mo Farah was thinking on the final lap of the 5,000 metres: “I must push past this pain barrier or I won’t even be nominated for SPOTY.”

Do Lewis Hamilton’s or Jenson Button’s world titles mean less because they weren’t crowned SPOTY (as of yet). No, I don’t think they do.

Ultimately it means nothing compared to the actual sporting crowns they each hold. In entertainment similar awards mean more as it is a recognition from industry experts. But getting a secondary award after first achieving in your sport what must be the most important thing to you seems a little empty.

Despite all this, I will be watching the award ceremony, I will get annoyed if the wrong person wins and I will probably shed a tear when we look back at the year of sport and the events that give you shivers down your spine.

But maybe that is what this is all about, a celebration of how wonderful we are at certain events. And this year we have certainly been good. It is something us Brits aren’t normally very good at. So maybe we should just sit down, relax and enjoy the over-the-top nature of the ceremony, Gary Linekar’s smug smile and the countless montages, with that Welsh man’s voiceover  making it oh that much more dramatic.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Murray mania should have been here years ago

Andy Murray became the first British man since 1938 to reach a Wimbledon final on Sunday.

He lost, to Roger Federer. He cried, it was emotional -as one might expect when losing a Grand slam final.

But Murray has also managed to go from the person the nation loves to hate to a national hero.

Quite a feat - a good one, but one I don't think should have been necessary.

Rewind a week ago, even less maybe, and Mr Murray was, in no uncertain terms, considered to be a boring, grumpy Scot who was fairly good at tennis.

I cannot count the number of times that I have heard people say:

“Oh, he's rubbish, he will never win a grandslam!”
“He is so grumpy, he never smiles. When he wins he looks like he has lost.”
“He always goes on and on about how he is Scottish and not British.”
“He is a rubbish Scotsman, even if he manages to win a slam, I still won't like him.”
“I support Murray, but only because there is no one else out there I can support whose British.”

Yet, today, just a few days after he lost to Federer he is the nation's man of the moment. Zero to Hero in a Hercules-esque manner.

He has dismissed all those believes in an afternoon's work – pretty tidy if you ask me.

As one of Murray's longest serving supporters I am happy that so many haters have changed their minds, so many people who “never thought they would warm to Murray,” have.

But it frustrates me that people have had to see this side of him, to warm to him.

Ultimately, it is the same media and journalists who are praising him for his heroic performance, (essentially his sob after the match) who forced him to become the “miserable, emotionless” person in the first place.

Without this rhetoric being forced fed to the public via the media, Murray may have been fully embraced by Great British public a few years back.

We like to think we don't believe everything we see and hear, and claim to know that what we read in the papers is not true, but I think the case of Andy Murray exemplifies the exact opposite.

It all started at Wimbledon 2006, Murray had just turned 18, England were competing in the World Cup, Scotland hadn't qualified, and Murray was joking around with Henman and the BBC interviewer off camera about how Scotland had not even made it to the finals.

Then, when asked on camera who he would support that same evening, he said, in a joking way, “As I am Scottish, I guess I have to support anyone who plays against England.” - a throw away comment, which none of them even thought about again....until the next day.

The papers went wild: 'Murray hates the English' became a sentiment so ingrained in the general public's mind that they believed Murray said it, repeated it, got the t-shirt and wrote a song about it.

Having had that experience as a young player, anyone would then be extremely wary of the press and the way they conducted themselves around the media. You wouldn't say anything vaguely interesting or controversial for fear that the press would turn it around on you.

By producing bland comments, and not bowing to some of the ridiculous questions asked of him, Murray came across as boring and emotionless.

Let's just take a minute to appreciate the ridiculousness of this interview.

Better to be boring than to be anti-English he must have thought.
But Murray became both. Tarnished with both brushes, he couldn't win.

(Side note: It is no wonder Murray comes across as boring, with such ridiculous non-questions being asked of him – the fact that others come so well out of these types of interviews should really be the big surprise)

His personality was still there, but it had to be dragged out by the correct interviewer at the right time.

By producing a few tears after a match and by playing pretty well in the final, the press and public have reversed their opinions - we love a good sob story. 

Murray is no longer an English hating, boring, Scot, he is a warrior, a braveheart. He didn't win, but he was graceful in defeat – ironically the epitome of a what we usually complain about in a British tennis player.

A few tears and he is ours. A modern day hero. Murray - "You should be proud, not disappointed was what the second BBC interviewer said to him" – I agree.

But Murray won't be proud, he will be angry that he lost.

It is this anger of losing which is what we should embrace about Murray, his ability, his talent, his work ethic, 
shots like the one below, and not the fact he simply exemplified his emotion and desire, which is taken for granted in most top sportsmen.

He will come back, he will win a grand slam, and hopefully now his victory will be appreciated even more.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

BBC scaremongering not neccesary

BBC’s Panorama so often fails to live up to expectations but last week’s Euro 2012 documentary on neo-Nazism in Ukraine was extremely revealing.
Such violent racism was shocking to see, yet it begs the question: why broadcast this programme so close to the tournament?

It is well known that countries in the Eastern Bloc have numerous social issues, one of which being racism. The fact the Euros are being held there is, and always has been, fairly controversial. 

However, it is not like UEFA awarded them the tournament last week. 

Unfortunately racism is rife in football all over the world, and particularly all over Europe. You can almost call it hypocritical for our country’s national media organisation to broadcast such a programme when we are allowing a player accused of racially abusing someone to participate.

If the BBC wanted to raise awareness they should have done it in good time before the tournament. Broadcasting this damaging documentary so close to the start just builds up a negative aura around Euro 2012 before it even starts.

Many people may now be taking Sol Campbell’s advice and boycotting the Euros, but in my opinion this would be the worst thing to do. While visitors need to be more cautious than normal, this documentary should not cause people to shun the event completely. 

The way to deal with social problems is to face them head on. By avoiding the Euros, the world could be seen to be bowing to the small pockets of the community that live with such extremist views. 

While it is important for the media to highlight such social issues, it should have been done so in a timelier manner.

Unfortunately, scaremongering by the media before major tournaments is something that we see too often, and whatever happens in the next few weeks, similar issues will no doubt be raised once again before Russia 2018.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Ultimate Coverage

If rumours are to be believed, ITV's French Open coverage is set to take Britain by storm. They have somehow managed to attract Jim Courier into their team, a prospect which is very appealing.

Jim Courier, for those are unaware, was a pretty good tennis player back in the day, he won four grand slams and regularly defeated some of the greats: Agassi, Sampras, Edberg etc etc.

He is also however one of the greatest interviewers I have ever seen in any sport, and by far and away the best in tennis. He has a knack of thinking up great questions on the spot, and while is also helped by a great bond with most players his questioning at the Australian open is what keeps me sane after having to listen to Mats Wilander prattle on for four hours in Eurosport's commentary box.

ITV's brand new line up will also include:

  • Ameli Mauresmo (an intriguing concept)
  • John Inverdale (always a solid choice) and
  • Sam Smith (whose dreary tones can often mask some interesting commentary points)

They are also promising a purpose built studio, very exciting times. BBC are being firmly warned.

Anyway, I digress. The attraction of Jim Courier got me thinking about my ideal commentary and studio team from all sports and after a lot of deliberation, I think I have found the perfect lot. (Note: these are slightly biased towards tennis)

Studio Presenter: Sue Barker- who else? Sue Barker is the queen of sports television and her knowledge of all sports makes her an absolute pro. She manages to deal with any situation with grace and poise and a sense of humour and quite frankly, I want to be her.

Television Commentators:
Sid Waddell – no explanation needed. A prime example of how excited Mr Waddell gets during close matches. There are plenty other examples of classic quotes, but I feel this clip was a rare find by me a few months ago (I am not sure why it has this title).

John Mcenroe – The only tennis commentator I am yet to listen to without shouting at the television.

Peter Allis- For so many reasons this is just one.
“It is at times like these when you wish you weren't wearing white trousers” (Masters 2012) is just one other.

Shane Warne/Nasser Hussain- I couldn't chose between these two. Shane always manages to put a smile on your face and brings up some controversial points, with some great “banter” (I hate myself for just saying this word, but I can't think of any other way to describe it). However, I couldn't leave out Nasser because although I used to find his voice so irritating when he started I now rate Nasser more and more, and Shane probably less and less. 

Radio Commentator
Clare Balding – She is so good at visualising sport for those unable to watch it – something which few people can do. Her calm demeanor could be the reason for this.

In studio guests for post and pre match analysis:
Boris Becker- mainly because of his accent, but his points are very interesting, plus he has a twinkle in his eye.
Michael Atherton- always has interesting things to say with insights to the game, he articulates himself extremely well but doesn't take himself too seriously.

Live at the track/court/pitch prior to kick off and grabbing the players for brief chats in the middle of the match:
Martin Brundle- Could it really be anyone else? With his expertise on the F1 grid, ad-libbing when most would find it awkward and his ability to talk to almost anyone even moments before the start, imagine what he could and who he could interview at the side of a football/rugby pitch.

Interviewer: Jim Courier- for reasons mentioned above. Here is one example:

Special mention to Chris Kumara who would be my “at the other stadium guy” purely for commical reasons.

Back up in case of illness/injury: Gabby Logan – what a hero, she can put her hand to any sport and has to control ex-footballers on occasions which she does very well in my opinion. [I felt I couldn't post this without her name being mentioned]

There we go, I spent quite a while thinking about this, and I am sure it has brightened up your life. Other suggestions are more than welcome.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

It's all in the theme

Recently listening to The chain by Fleetwood Mac spurred my mind onto sports theme tunes and how fantasticly memorable they all are.
The BBC has all the classics, now why is this, and what makes these legendary themes?

These are my favourites, and in my opinion the most legendary; but there are more, so explore the realms of youtube and let me know of any other striking ones which I have missed:

(This is the more modern version of the classic and I feel it pretty much sums up my ski season in Whistler- shredding the pow.)

And, finally... the most famous

These themes all evoke memories and emotions associated with sport. It is fascinating how one tiny piece of music can do this, and why we, well I, for one do not find the same emotion in the sky sports and ITV themes.

Firstly, these broadcasts are all classics, and were institutions with the same tune for countless years. Unfortunately, many of them have become a victim of satellite television and have been extinct since the 2000’s, but times change and we must accept it and move on.

Secondly, these are all classical or jazzy pieces of music, which mean that they are not in the charts, and cannot be characterised by a time period. Essentially these are timeless. The ski sunday theme has been updated and is made more modern but the true theme is still 100% there, reassuring the viewer that this programme is still the same. 

On the contrary sky sports who, in accordance to their image change their theme tunes often and use up to date remixes, this means they must be consistently updated to avoid being "out of fashion".

The same charm therefore does not shine through, but then who needs a theme tune to charm and evoke emotion when you have Chris Kamara:

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Sky Pad

The ATP tour finals were held last week in the O2 in London. Always interesting and of a high standard, the top eight players of the year play in a round robin format before heading into the semi-finals and finals.

What is even more exciting about this tournament is that some of it is shown on BBC as well as sky sports. Sue Barker presenting anything is simply fantastic to watch, she manages the grace and composure which numerous sports presenters lack. However, unfortunately for BBC, and the rest of the tennis fans who want to watch this excellent event in our home country, the budget wasn't big enough to win the broadcasting rights for all of the matches. Therefore in the evenings tennis fans across the country were forced to switch over to see the sky team do their best to cover the top eight in the men's game battling it out.

Last week this involved a rather uninspiring albeit improved presenter who I think goes by the name of Marcus. He was joined by Greg Rusedski and Boris Becker in the studio for the pre match hype and Annabelle Croft for the on court hustle and bustle- a good place for the glamourous ex player. All this was fair and good, Greg makes interesting points and although they usually relate to himself his good looks and charm means that he can pull it off (OK- I may be a little bit biast) and Boris' charisma, knowledge and fantastic accent always entertain and inform. 1

The most ridiculous part of their coverage was however Mark Petchey and Barry Cowan attempting to explain the game using “THE SKY PAD”. Now, whenever this is said, I believe it should be said in the infamous x factor voice. It is built up to be one of the most fantastic bits of technology ever to exist in the history of the world. No. It is pointless and rubbish, an old bit of technology put on large ipad type screen. Essentially it allows a pundit to draw lines and arrows, we mustn't forget the arrows, on the screen enabling clear verification of the points which they are making.

“This has been around for a while though?” I hear you say, and yes, you would be correct. Pretty much all the sports channels have been able to draw lines and arrows onto a screen enabling the viewer to see the points which they are making ever so clearly. It is particularly used in rugby and football to show the players positioning and tactics.

For the sky sports tennis team though, this SKY PAD is the best thing since sliced bread, and they continually overuse this rather outdated yet fancy looking pad before, during and after every match. One of the major problems is that whenever we see the duo, Mark Petchey or Barry Cowan drawing lines on the ever so fancy IPAD we often are unable to see what exactly they are drawing as the view is showing the said commentator drawing on the screen and not simply the screen itself. BONKERS.

If this isn't the only fault with this ridiculous sky pad, then the two ex British players who have been delegated this formidable task often also make extremely irrelevant points, as if they are being held at gunpoint to find something that they can say and exemplify using the "latest technology". Therefore, they find one or two points which exemplify a random form of good or bad tactics used. Then they claim that these were the reason that said player won or lost the set. 

One time they showed Rafa coming forward against Tsonga and dictating the point. This was one of the few times he managed to do this in the set- yet they made out that by using this tactic so often was how Nadal had managed to win the second set (It was more due to Tsonga not making the most of his opportunities and faulting on his serve at 4-4).

Then they continued to recommend that Rafa should use this ingenious (ahem) idea of coming forward and dictating the points if he were to win the match- fantastic advice there, although I do believe it is more suited to a 11 year old player at your local club rather than the number two in the world!

As far as I am concerned this sky pad should be left at the door along with Barry Cowan and Mark Petchey's smug looks. Sky should focus their attention and money to trying to tempt a certain John McEnroe to join their recently revamped team in the same way that they managed to recruit Boris.

1 Replace Andrew Castle and Tim Henman with these two on the BBC and we may have some good tennis coverage

Friday, 18 November 2011


Those of you who know me well won't be surprised to hear that I enjoy a bit of darts. It is after all laden with the older, fatter, balder man in all areas of the game!

I say game not to provoke the age old controversy of whether or not darts warrants the recognition as a sport or not. For me, this is irrelevant. Darts is what it is- a strangely magnificent spectacle. I see it as a curious cross between snooker and boxing. The high skill and accuracy levels needed are similar to those in snooker, as is the lack of physical prowess required in most traditional sports.

It's likeness to boxing is more in relation to the hype and introductions, the MC, often a Frank Butcher sound-a-like, attempts to recreate Michael Buffer from the introduction of the players to the call of onnnneeeee hundred and eeiiiigggghhhhhttyyyy.

Similarly, the entrance of the players is a tacky version of a prize fight, only instead of a fit, muscle packed Manny Pacquiao with an entourage and some air punching, there appears an overweight, balding man, often in his forties coming out side by side with what can only be described as a typically British “glamour” girl- blonde hair, breasts an' all. Trying to work out which one seems more uncomfortable is often a hard task.

It's not surprising both seem so awkward since any other day these ladies wouldn't even turn their heads to the players, who would look more at home propping up your local. (Again, this is to be expected given that the pub is the “Lords” of darts).
But, this is what makes darts so fantastic to watch, and sky sports who snapped up the major PDC tournaments coverage soon after the break away from the BDO in 1993 are on to a winner.
Their coverage is wonderfully simple, replicating the game. The commentators have the knowledge and clear, exciting voices. They manage to keep the viewer engaged, and although  Ron Studd in particular often gets over excited- he manages to  maintain control over his words (take note Phil Vickery and ITV Rugby World Cup commentary team). Furthermore, they use statistics well, pointing out relevant facts but not becoming overreliant on the oh so often pointless numbers. Something which sport coverage has been guilty of in recent years.
Overall, sky sports let the game do the work. There is the odd feature, but it is fantastically amateur or very tacky, interviewing a player whilst gambling on the horses for example. The awkward moment arises, but it is the unglossy vibe that gives the darts coverage its undeniable charm. The presenter, Dave Clark, having thankfully taking over from Jeff Stelling asks interesting questions to the winners and often provokes the surprisingly charismatic darts players into an opinionated discussion- quite a feat for the modern day sportsman.

Of course, these darts players are not soccer players or boxers (as much as the PDC are trying to make them into them), many of them are amateurs, it is this which makes the viewer have a genuine feeling of warmth towards them. Although the game lends itself to television, Sky are doing a fantastic job of covering the game, keeping it simple and not trying to glamorise it any more than the sport has done in its own right. The one aspect that they lack is Bobby George interviewing the players in the back room- but I don't think BBC will give him up without a fight.