A Love Story: The NFL and I…

Blog, Sports Writing, Uncategorized

Since first developing an interest in the NFL, it has evolved into an incredibly strong passion and love for American Football. It didn’t really take long to become hooked, either, and I doubt I’ll ever look back.

Strangely enough, I was introduced to the game by playing EA Sports’ Madden on my PlayStation 4. Obviously, I had already experienced the Super Bowl and clips of ‘Hardest Tackles in the NFL’ on the internet, but Madden was where I really got into it.

Madden seems to be a game that is often slated online by other Football fans, for various reasons; inaccurate player stats, gameplay and so on.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the other football too – soccer – and am a seasoned FIFA player, so I fully appreciate the issues people can have with EA games. However, I genuinely believe that I picked up the rules, tactics and player positions far quicker by ‘playing’ than I would have by watching. It’s just how I learn best, being pretty ‘kinaesthetic’.

Getting into American Football also allowed me to re-kindle my affiliation with Tampa Bay Buccaneers, whom I adopted as ‘my team’ on the back of a family holiday to Florida, many years ago. I remember, at the age of nine, coming home to the U.K. with a Bucs baseball cap and Mike Alstott jersey.

Of course, being a typical British sports fan, I am extremely passionate about my Buccaneers now. Also, being a typical Liverpool Football Club supporter, I’m extremely positive about our chances this coming season; a new coach, a talented quarterback going into his second season, and a much strengthened defense – what’s not to be excited about?

Jameis Winston

The Pre-Season starts tomorrow night, with Tampa Bay kicking off at midnight on Friday, and my NFL Game Pass subscription has been renewed, ready for the long awaited return of this beautiful sport. I really cannot wait; it’s just like being a kid on Christmas Eve.

The problem is, I don’t know many people who share my excitement. Most are looking forward to the Premier League starting, which I am too, but it’s not the same. American Football is growing over here though. We have amateur leagues, and I even have a ‘local team’ – Chester Romans – who play in the British American Football League’s NFC 2 West division.

On the occasions I’ve watched Chester, it has made me wish I had discovered my enthusiasm for it all far earlier, as I would love to have enjoyed being involved with Football out on the field, rather than being just a fan of the game. Sadly, I fear the age of twenty-six is a little late in the day to be starting out as a ‘rookie’.

On a slightly more ‘prolific’ scale, the NFL hosts the International Series, in which a handful of NFL fixtures take place on British soil. I imagine many American fans of the teams who lose a ‘home’ fixture to the UK get a bit hacked off, however looking at the bigger picture, it is a fantastic way to grow awareness of the sport they love on a global scale (and make the NFL a load of money in the process).

NFL at Wembley

With all of this happening on my doorstep, it’s evident that I’m not such a rare breed after all, which is a pretty good feeling.

If you haven’t given American Football a second thought, have the common misconception that it’s ‘just Rugby with helmets’, or even just don’t think you’ll understand what’s going on, I implore you to give it a try. You won’t regret it.

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Nationality is More Than Just a Birthplace

Blog, Sports Writing

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last few weeks, you can’t possibly have missed the coverage of Euro 2016, and with this, you should be well aware of the colossal – and thoroughly deserved – success of the Welsh national team.

Of course, whilst Wales have reaped the rewards of genuine passion and team spirit – along with some fantastic football – during their quest for glory, the same level of success hasn’t been enjoyed by others, perhaps most notably their neighbours, England.

Without shying away from the fact their players have underachieved in yet another major championship, the England side has been left suffering the same old backlash that follows the unnecessary levels of expectation from the media, the fans, and everyone in between, every time a World Cup or European Championship comes around.

However, the one big difference this time around is the ‘humiliation’ of being outdone by the once-lowly Wales.

England Football

This has been followed by a foul bitterness from some English supporters; a desperate search for some kind of logical explanation, as to just how Wales of all countries could achieve more than the footballing-giant that is England. In this search, there have been plenty of conclusions reached; the ‘Gareth Bale is your only player’ claim, the targeting of the likes of Raheem Sterling, Wayne Rooney and Joe Hart, and finally, the utter cluelessness of their newly-resigned manager, Roy Hodgson. But nothing about England not being as good a team as they think they are.

But now, it seems, they have found solace in the centre of their arrogance; Wales would be nothing without their ‘English players’. Brilliant.

It would be silly and untrue to claim that the English-born players within the Wales squad are not important. Ashley Williams, the captain, is arguably the heart of the team; the strong central figure in and amongst the flair and class of the likes of ‘proper’ Welshmen Aaron Ramsey, Gareth Bale and Joe Allen. Hal Robson-Kanu and Sam Vokes have worked tirelessly in attack, and they’ve even pitched in with some crucial goals.

There are a total of nine English-born players within the Welsh squad. But that doesn’t necessarily make them English, and only English.

Robson-Kanu & Bale

There is far more to an individual’s nationality than the location of the hospital you were born in. Nationality is, by definition, the belonging to a nation either by birth or naturalisation. There are other kinds of nationalism, away from plain old ethnic-nationalism, such as civic and cultural.

In terms of sport, there are different ways to represent a country – and adopt that nationality – other than your place of birth, such as citizenship.

If you’ve been watching Wimbledon, you may have been supporting the Women’s British Number One, Johanna Konta. Until becoming a British citizen in 2012, Konta represented Australia, her country of origin.

In the current England cricket team, two of the eleven 2015-16 ‘central contract’ holders are not English-born, and in addition, a couple more were awarded incremental contracts. Plus, it is hard to forget the long list of foreign-born yet influential England cricketers over the years, with the most notable in recent times being the likes of Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Strauss, who were both raised in South Africa.

Kevin Pietersen & Andrew Strauss

Looking back at the Wales football team, as another example, it is possible to represent a nation based on heritage; a parent, or grandparent being born in said country. It makes perfect sense. Let’s say, for example, that you are born in England, to a Welsh father and German mother. Surely there is a part of you that is both Welsh and German, as well as English?

Of course being born in England makes these players ‘English’ to an extent, but let’s not allow our ignorance to leave us pigeon-holing every single individual to a single nationality, thus disregarding every other aspect of their existence other than a choice they simply did not make.

Ashley Williams was born in Wolverhampton, however he has lived and played his club football in Wales for the best part of a decade. His children are Welsh, and Williams has said himself that he feels Welsh, has Welsh blood and will probably continue to live in the country once his playing days are over.

Ashley Williams

This is a man who epitomises what it means to be proud of his country; when he puts on that red shirt, sings along to the national anthem with immense pride, and gives every ounce of effort he possibly can for the team and the dragon on his chest.

That is the true meaning of nationality. That is what it means to be Welsh.

Can Liverpool FC Rejoin Europe’s Elite?

Blog, Sports Writing

The question on everyone’s lips, well perhaps predominantly the ‘red’ half of Merseyside, is ‘will we get a Champions League place?’

I will would absolutely love it when if this was the achievement of the 2013/14 Premier League season, but at the same time, I am a realist. It won’t be easy.

Before any presumptions are wrongly made, this isn’t because I think Joe Allen is useless, or Sir Alex Ferguson is controlling English football’s Illuminati. It is purely based on the lack of depth in the squad.

Liverpool Football Club has never failed to convince me – going in to any game that they’ve participated in since I began supporting them – that they can win it. I don’t think anyone can seriously believe that they will 100% not obtain something from a game. They still have that ‘winning’ aura.

Can Brendan Rodgers lead the reds into Europe next year?

Can Brendan Rodgers lead the reds into Europe next year?

If I go onto Facebook on a Saturday evening and Liverpool have lost, and Manchester United have won (they will do this again eventually), the United supporters’ posts are never to do with the fact that they’ve picked up three points; they’re more interested in the fact Liverpool have dropped three. When the fan base of one of, if not the only club in the country worthy of comparing their glorious history to that of Liverpool’s, you know that people on the outside are still very much ‘bothered’ by how they get on.

I think a subject widely open for debate, is Brendan Rodgers’ inbound transfer activity. I have no qualms with any of the movement occurring in the opposite direction, apart from sending Fabio Borini out on loan. But even the doubts about that move aren’t based on a strong belief in the Italian’s talent. It’s because, as we are now seeing, we simply don’t have enough quality to come in when a first choice player is sidelined.

Patience is something that Liverpool’s supporters have been asked for, and it is still yet to see just how much the likes of Tiago Ilori and Luis Alberto can offer in the future, but at the age of twenty-six, Iago Aspas should probably have been at the required level by this stage of his career. That said, without offering him much playing time, it’s difficult to say whether or not he is or not.

Daniel Sturridge has undoubtedly been the most consistent performer so far this season, regardless of Luis Suarez’s late arrival into the mix. When I saw the report that Sturridge would be out for up to eight weeks, my immediate vision was that we would gradually slip down the table in a fiasco of wasted chances and leaky goals.

We then proceeded to put in disappointing performance against a battling Hull City side, losing 3-1. This can’t purely be based on half of the ‘SAS’ being missing, however. It’s becoming clear that despite this Summer’s attempt at bolstering the defensive options, there is still something not working at the back. Of course, Jose Enrique’s absence until February is a blow, though it has to be said that youngster Jon Flanagan has looked promising at left back.

Referring to these transfers, I was particularly pleased at the signing of Kolo Toure, and remain intrigued by what Mamadou Sakho will offer.

In the loan business, Victor Moses certainly has promise and could well be a key member of the squad; however I’m unconvinced by Aly Cissokho thus far.

Simon Mignolet has been fantastic so far this season, and I genuinely feel that his performances are not complimented nearly enough by the figure of four clean sheets in fifteen matches. This deal was definitely the buy of the transfer window for Rodgers.

In midfield, Henderson has improved a lot from last season, and has warranted his selection. As ever, skipper Steven Gerrard has remained an integral part of the squad, but he could now be out for up to six weeks. Another disappointing factor is that Lucas appears to be struggling to find the form he enjoyed prior to the lengthy absences he’s suffered through injury.

Captain and Midfield Maestro Steven Gerrard faces being sidelined for up to 8 weeks after suffering a Hamstring injury. Credit: Getty Images

Steven Gerrard suffered a Hamstring injury against West Ham. Credit: Getty Images

Our attacking options, in my opinion, are definitely where we struggle.

Luis Suarez is incredible. It doesn’t matter what anybody thinks of him as a human being, as a footballer, it would simply be moronic to deny that he is one of the best players in the world at the moment. As mentioned, Daniel Sturridge has also proven himself as a more than able goal scorer. It just has to be hoped that he can limit the time he is injured, an issue that has seemed to affect his career until now.

Besides the SAS, young Philippe Coutinho looks set to become a hugely inspirational member of the side, but is yet to pose much of a threat when it comes to goals. Raheem Sterling is still very young, and whilst he offers incredible pace, his final product needs polishing. This could, and should, improve in time.

At full strength, we have seen that Liverpool have more than enough firepower to threaten anybody, but the current injury to Daniel Sturridge has highlighted that there is nobody who is yet able to step into the side and continue where he has left off.

This could have been where Borini would finally prove himself as a Liverpool striker, but as he is on loan, Aspas has failed to impress and Luis Alberto not having chance to do much at all, there is an awful lot of pressure on Luis Suarez. Rodgers has said that the team ‘can’t rely’ on the Uruguayan, but if Aspas and Alberto aren’t going to start, what option do the side have?

Liverpool need assistance for Luis Suarez in front of goal.

Liverpool need assistance for Luis Suarez in front of goal.

January will be an interesting transfer window, and I cannot wait to see if and who Rodgers brings in, and ships out. It’ll also be a very interesting period on the pitch, as we see if Liverpool can take their (until now) strong start in the first half of the season over into 2014. I believe they can, but they will have to earn it.

YNWA.

Fans bid farewell to Collingwood

Sports Writing, Uncategorized

English cricket supporters have paid tribute to Paul Collingwood and his services after his announcement  on Thursday that he would be retiring from Test cricket.

Collingwood, 34, made the announcement on the fourth day of the final match of the 2010-11 Ashes series against Australia.

England had already retained the Ashes at the time of Collingwood’s announcement, and the side on their way to winning the final test, the eventual victory ensuring that they also won the series 3-1.

He said of his decision: “I honestly think it’s the right time and in many ways it’s the perfect moment. This is what I’ve been playing the game of cricket for; to be in a position (to win the Ashes) against Australia, in Australia.”

Collingwood struggled with the bat throughout the series, scoring just 83 runs from six innings; an average of just 13.83. However he was still reliable as ever in the field, taking 9 catches to Australia wicket keeper Brad Haddin’s 8, including the incredible dismissal of Ricky Ponting in the 3rd Test in Perth.

Despite his dip in form, supporter Jonathan Hughes, of Lancaster, believes Collingwood’s retirement may have been premature: “I reckon he had a few more years left in him. People often imply that he’s not got a great deal of talent and works with what he’s got, but I think that’s unfair. You only have to watch his fielding to know that his athleticism and hand-eye coordination are second to none.”                           

Paul Collingwood Facts

  • Full Name: Paul David Collingwood
  • Born: May 26th 1976, Shotley Bridge, Co Durham
  • Age: 34
  • Test matches: 68
  • Test Runs & Average: 4259 at 40.56
  • Test Wickets & Average: 17 at 59.88
  • Test Catches: 96
  • For more stats please click here.

Collingwood’s underachievement with the bat isn’t the sole reason for his retirement from the Test side. He has admitted that up and coming players were also a large factor in his decision: “There are a lot of youngsters coming through, so this team will progress.”

It is thought that left handed batsman Eoin Morgan is set to step into Collinwood’s position for the next England Test series this summer, which is against Sri Lanka.

England fan Gareth Fox, of North Wales, believes that it was the right decision for Collingwood to retire: “I think that Collingwood leaving will strengthen the batting order but we’ll miss his fielding and genuine experience. I would bring in (Eoin) Morgan to bat 6, with (Ian) Bell moving up to 5 in the order.”

Whilst supporters will no longer see Paul Collingwood in the longer format of the game in an England shirt, he will continue to captain the Twenty20 side and be part of the One Day team.

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