England - it needs to change

At times like this, we all become football experts.  But just because we don’t earn £6 million a year from the FA, it doesn’t mean we’re wrong.

It seems like the whole of England is clamouring for Gerrard to be played in the hole just behind Wayne Rooney.  Let him have a free role there and we’ll get the best out of him.  I’d like to meet the person that thinks we wouldn’t be more effective that way.  I’d even be willing to settle for less.  How about just not playing Gerrard out of position.

Starting with two out-and-out strikers shouldn’t necessarily mean that Gerrard is automatically sent out wide left (or right).

The match against Algeria showed that even when he’s out wide, he has a tendency to come inside in search of the ball.  Well that’s good right?  Because that’s what he’s best at.  No.  Because now we’ve got gaps down the flanks where Gerrard should be and the full-backs are exposed.  That’s a very quick way to get in behind us without too much effort.  And that’s madness at the world cup.  I’m not saying he can’t be effective - of course he can.  But he’s never going to be as effective as a natural winger.  Gerrard at 70% on the left is just not as effective as a ’real’ left winger at 100%. 

It’s the double-whammy that kills us.  Not only are we less effective down the wing, we’re also less effective through the middle, where Gerrard would naturally be playing.

I don’t buy into the argument that Capello is apparently trying to sell - Gerrard is a world-class player and should be able to play anywhere.  Nonsense.  As one of my friends put it, you wouldn’t expect Lewis Hamilton to win the World Rally Championship just because he’s a world class driver.

There was a huge discussion point just prior to the finals around whether England should take a specialist left-back as cover.  The argument was that it was a specialist position and therefore, a utility player would leave us at risk.  But this is the World Cup.  And at this level, they’re all specialist positions.

Let me ask you this.  Who’s the better footballer, David James or Steven Gerrard?  Gerrard right?  So why don’t we play him in goal?  Because goalkeeper is a specialist position.  But as I’ve said, at this level they all are.

It absolutely mystifies me that we will willingly sacrifice getting the most from one of our best, and genuinely world class players, by playing him out of position.  Especially when we have players in the squad that can play out wide.

What’s happening is that we’re pandering to ‘names’.  The one thing we were promised that wouldn’t happen under Capello.  He’s a man that can make the tough decisions, we were told.  Well I’m yet to see it.

Tough decisions are telling Frank Lampard that although he’s a magnificent player, he isn’t going to start today because he doesn’t fit the system.  Tough decisions are dragging Rooney off after 60 minutes because he’s giving you nothing and you’ve got a choice of strikers that can offer you different things.  Tough decisions are admitting that you’re shape is wrong and making the necessary changes.  Tough decisions are accepting that when you need a win, and you need goals, Heskey just doesn’t cut the mustard.

I’m yet to see any of that.

If Capello has got a system that he wants to play, and it seems like it’s 4-4-2, that’s absolutely fine.  Play the 11 people that are best suited to making that system work.  And you know what, that might mean putting somebody in that you could argue wouldn’t command the same price in the transfer market as someone you’re leaving out.  But if it means you’re going to get the best from the team, make the call.

I actually feel there’s a chance that Capello will make changes for the Slovenia game.  Yet I’m still concerned that we’ll still see Gerrard out wide.  I genuinely hope not.

The team I’d start, for what it’s worth:


Cole. A

Cole. J



Forget Spain, tomorrow it’s about Honduras v Chile

We’re under 24 hours away from Honduras kicking off their World Cup 2010 campaign.

Tomorrow’s early kick-off sees Los Catrachos take on Chile.

Unfancied by many, Honduras’ players for their part are refusing to go out without a fight and are pinning their chances of hitting the knock-out rounds on an opening victory against a Chile team that is ranked 20 places above them.

This is the first time Honduras have made it to the World Cup finals since 1982 when they were unlucky not to make it out of the group.  Back then they were also pitted against a well-fancied Spain side.  And they pulled off a bit of a shock when, after leading at half-time, they went on to earn a very credible 1-1 draw.

Being careful not to over-promise this time, they’ve made canny statements around their chances of progression to this year’s knock-out phases having more to do with results against Chile and Switzerland.

Many of their players play for clubs outside the Honduran national league and this has given them an increased confidence ahead of the Chile game.  Most people will be familiar with the well-travelled Wilson Palacios, who is now playing at Spurs after a successful stint at Birmingham City (to whom he was recommended by Arsene Wenger after a trial at Arsenal).

But the key man for Honduras could well be their record goal-scorer, Carlos Pavon.  Enjoying his fifth spell at Honduran league club, Real Espana, he’s had a new lease of life in the national side under current head coach Reinaldo Ruera.  With an international goalscoring ratio better than 1 in 2, he is Honduras all time leading scorer with 57 goals in 100 appearances.  One interesting footnote to his career was his brief spell with LA Galaxy in the MLS in 2008.  He scored twice in an away game against New York Red Bulls with both goals coming from assists from our very own David Beckham.

Another key player to watch is El Lobo (the Wolf), Amado Guevara.  He is the record Honduran cap holder on 134.  Originally an attacking midfielder, he has adapted his role to sit deeper and is frequently the catalyst for building attacking moves.  He’s also famed for his questionable temperament and is no stranger to serving suspensions. 

Having been sanctioned recently for slapping an opponent and shoving a referee, he could bring a Honduran spark to proceedings!

Honduras’ form going into tomorrow’s match is not great.  They qualified for the finals at the expense of Costa Rica - who themselves only missed out when they conceded a last minute goal to USA.  Honduras haven’t won a game since January, despite taking on the likes of Turkey, Romania, Azerbaijan, Belarus and Venezuela.

What is heartening though, is that their last victory, back in January, was against a USA side that England recently struggled against.  Honduras beat them 3-1.

Chile’s form is much better, having defeated their last three opponents, Northern Ireland, Israel and New Zealand.  They also had an impressive qualification campaign for the World Cup, finishing second in their group to Brazil.

Much of Chile’s success at the finals could depend on the fitness of their star striker, Humberto Suazo.  He’s been troubled by a thigh injury and may not be risked against Honduras.  Should this be the case, his quality will certainly be missed.  With 10 goals in qualification he was the top scorer in the South American group which included Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.

What makes tomorrow’s clash particularly interesting is that both teams are likely to be realistic in that they are tussling with Switzerland for second place in the group.  This means that Honduras v Chile is a must-win, with a draw doing neither team much good.

So make sure you’re up at the crack of noon to enjoy this one.  You won’t regret it!

A King’s Ransom - Will Capello pay for his one real mistake?

I’ve read and heard a lot since Saturday’s game against the USA about England being in crisis and how Capello got all the big decisions wrong.

I don’t agree.  Capello gave the nod at goalkeeper to Rob Green but that wasn’t necessarily a mistake.  Robert Green dropped the ball, quite literally, but should Capello be expected to legislate for that?  If he’d have played Joe Hart and he’d made a similar error, which every keeper is capable of, everyone would be saying he should have started Green.

These things are abberations and I think everyone should get a free pass the first time.  The goalkeeper and the manager.

I don’t necessarily think his tactics were flawed either.  Heskey could just as easily have been the game winner if he hadn’t have blasted his best chance straight down Tim Howard’s throat.

But the one mistake he has made is in the selection of Ledley King.  I don’t doubt his talent at all, in fact I think he’s a tremendous player.  But when you have someone who openly admits that they struggle starting back-to-back games, should we pinning our hopes on him?

The latest news is that he could be out for three weeks.  Which means for his spot in a 23-man squad, he’s given us 45 minutes.  We now have cover from Michael Dawson, another accomplished defender but someone who Capello clearly doesn’t fancy.  After all, when King did limp off, Dawson wasn’t asked to strip off.

Which brings us to Jamie Carragher.  He’s now our bona fide back-up at centre-half.  Against much of the opposition we could face, he’ll be fine, but the USA game showed that he can’t handle true pace and that will be a problem if he’s called on.  If we do win the group, it’s a good shot we could face Ghana in the next round.  And from what I’ve seen of them already, they’ve got bags of pace!

Of course, this could all be academic.  Dawson could come in, fill in like he should’ve been there all along and King could be back, raring to go for the quarter finals.

But I still think the sellection of King was a mistake.  It was just too risky to pick a guy with such a track record of injuries.  And now we’re a man down with one back-up left at centre-half.  And for a country that breeds centre-backs like there’s no tomorrow, that’s a position we shouldn’t be in at such a critical time.

Too many of the big tournaments have ended with speculation over the selection of certain individuals.  I hope we’re not saying the same thing at the end of World Cup 2010.

England - Why it’s not the worst result

England 1 - 1 USA

 Alright, I’m not going to lie about it, I was fairly devastated with this result.  The team played reasonably well but they never hit first gear.

But, unlike the view that many of tomorrow’s tabloid newspapers will take, I’m pretty certain that this isn’t the end of the world.

Firstly, it was a freak goal.  Don’t get me wrong, I know that it was a real goalkeeping mistake, but it was still a freak.

Secondly, we’re still favourite to win the group.  Let’s face it, we’ve got Slovenia and Algeria next and we basically need to do better than the Americans against these teams to finish top.

Thirdly, England always start off slow.  In 2006 we started off with a victory, but it was a very pedestrian 1 -0 win against Paraguay.
In 2002, we started with a draw against Sweden and despite a 1-0 win against Argentina, we stuttered through with a final group stage draw with Nigeria.  And again, in 1998, despite an opening win against Tunisia, a subsequent loss against Romania saw us struggle through as group runners up.

Fourthly, we’ve got to play well now.  None of this messing about lark - everyone knows that another slip-up puts in real jeopardy - and there’s nothing like that sort of pressure to focus the mind.

Fifthly, this now makes the system even more important.  Gerrard had a good game as captain and this means he’s less likely to be stuck out wide.  Heskey played well, but with goals at a premium, I think we’ll start with two goal-getters up front.  A big win next and any loss of confidence will be forgotten and we can kick on.

And finally, this wasn’t the most disappointing thing I’ve seen tonight.  Unbelievably, there was worse to come.  For anyone else who watched ‘James Cordon’s World Cup Live’ - let’s hope there’s better to come.

The concerns are:

  • That Heskey just can’t score.  He did play well but was it enough?  Clearly not.
  • Following the loss of Ferdinand, no-one wanted to see King limp off at half time. This is definitely not good!
  • And when Carragher came on, he looked short of a yard against the wide men, particularly Altidore.

But - in summary, opening with a draw against your (arguably) toughest competition is not the worst thing in the world.  I honestly believe they can kick on and qualify top of the group.  The draw was a disappointment – but I’m happy to see the big picture and to put my faith in the long game.

Come on England!!

World Cup 2010, Top Goalscorer

With the tournament kicking off tomorrow afternoon with the hosts South Africa facing Mexico, I thought I’d make on my promise of taking a look at the prospects for top goalscorer.

For me, there are three key factors to take into account when weighing up the options:

1.    Which teams are likely to go deep in the tournament?

The further a team goes, the more games they’ll play and the more chance there is for their players to rack up the goals

In fact, you’d have to go back to Gary Lineker in 1986 to find a golden boot winner from a team that didn’t reach at least the semi-final

2.    Which teams have a relatively soft group?

It doesn’t always have to come down to the tournament favourites.  If there’s a team in a group full of leaky defences, there could be rich-pickings for a striker that may not even see the knock-out stages

I’m sure we all remember Oleg Salenko, who played for Russia in the ‘94 World Cup.  Thanks to a very generous Cameroon defence, that allowed Salenko to hit 5 goals in the game, he went in to share the golden boot (with semi-finalists Bulgaria’s Stoichkov) despite Russia being eliminated in the first round

3.    Is there a world-class goalscorer in great form?

Let’s face it, if you’re already touted as one of the world’s greatest goal-getters, you’re going to be in the running.  And entering the tournament in the middle of a hot streak isn’t going to do your chances any harm

To be top goalscorer, it’s likely that you’re going to have to satisfy at least one of these criteria.  What you’re looking for is the holy trinity.  A player who has the potential to meet all three of these criteria.

So, point 1, who’s going deep?  For my money, the semi finalists are likely to be:

England / Germany / Brazil / Spain

How do these four teams stack up against point 2, a soft group or some leaky defences:

I think it’s a toss-up between England and Spain as to who was happier with their draw, but both teams would hope to qualify without too much trouble.  Brazil are in the so-called group of death.  True, this one is a tough one to call.  But I have a feeling there will be goals in this group, so don’t rule any of the big boys out here.  Germany are in a much nicer group, but I think this will be one of those niggly groups and I expect a lot of the results to be tight.  But does this mean streams of one-nils, or four-threes?

And then there’s point 3, an established striker in form?

Again, from the four I’ve picked as semi-finalists, it’s a toss-up between England and Spain.  England have one of the hottest strikers in the world in Wayne Rooney.  Whereas Spain have two, with Villa and Torres.  OK, Torres has had his injury niggles but he knows where the net is and usually performs on the big occasions - hence Spain being current European champions.  But the fact that these two may end up sharing the goals may just mean neither one comes away with the prize.

And let’s not forget the Brazilians.  Luis Fabiano will certainly be troubling the goalkeepers during this World Cup, and with 25 goals for his country in 35 appearances, he already has a formidable international goalscoring record.

As for the Germans, well I’m afraid that they’re going to struggle for goals.  Yes, I have them tipped as semi-finalists, but this on the back of a solid defence and being able to nick the odd-goal.  My money won’t be on a German top-scorer.

In my mind then, there are four players who arguably match with my holy trinity of attributes; Rooney, Villa, Torres, Fabiano.

But who else is in with a shout?

Other teams that could easily progress instead of some of those I have are Argentina and Holland.  I’m pretty sure that Argentina are going to smash their group, which ticks off point 2.  Any chance they have a world class player at the top of his game?  Only Lionel Messi.  So he’s in.

Again, Holland look to have had a very favourable group draw.  I happen to be a big fan of van Persie too.  I don’t actually believe he will ultimately walk off with the golden boot but given their group and their potential to go far, he has to be included.

So now we’re up to six potentials.

Rooney, Villa, Torres, Fabiano, Messi, van Persie

Any dark horses?  Of course.  I’ve discounted the Portuguese so far because I have them down to be eliminated in the group stage.  But for all I know, they could just as easily walk off as group winners.  Literally anything could happen in group G - apart from N. Korea winning a game.

So we have to factor in at least one player from Portugal.  Any world-class players there?  You bet.  So I’ll stick Christiano Ronaldo in the mix too.

And for exactly the same reasons, I’ve got to put Cote D’Ivoire’s Drogba in the mix.

Honourable mentions also for Higuain, Milito and Benzema.

All in all, I’m now up to eight.  And that’s too many.  So, I’m going to whittle it down to a top 5.  No real science involved, just my Microsoft excel predictions calculator and some good old fashioned intuition.

5 Didier Drogba

Group G will be goal-laden.  Even if Ivory Coast don’t qualify, he could well have done enough to be troubling the scoring charts already.  And as I think they will go through, he’ll have the chance to do the same to Spain (who I have them meeting in the first knock-out round)

4.  Lionel Messi.

The man is quite simply a genius and this could well be his tournament.  Whether Argentina will go far enough is in doubt.  Many people have lost faith in the coaching staff and if this can be said for the players too, it’ll hurt Messi’s chances of performing.

3.  Wayne Rooney

On paper, Rooney would be a great bet for the golden boot.  A nice draw in the group stage, a chance to progress to the deeper reaches of the tournament and he himself, in dynamite form.  But England are notoriously slow starters and this could hurt his chances.  Plus if Capello starts tinkering with the shape, Rooney could find himself pulling deeper and deeper in search of the ball.  He’s still effective here, but it may not help his goal tally

2.  Luis Fabiano

Brazil will go far.  Provided they get out of group G.  And if they do, it’ll be thanks to goals from Fabiano.  He has the goalscoring touch and I expect him to light up the tournament.

1.  David Villa

As current European champions, Spain have some great momentum coming into the tournament.  I have them as eventual finalists (at least) so plenty of opportunity for their strikers to be in the goals.  As I’ve already mentioned, there could be an issue with having to share goals with their other world-class striker, Torres, but with his injury worries, I think it’s Villa who will shine.
Unfortunately, so do most of the bookies.  So if you can find Villa at 10/1 anywhere, get on it now.

If you’re after a rank outsider to get your £1 on, have a look at Park Chu-Young.  He’s a South Korean striker that plays for Monaco.  Very quick, very creative and is a dead-ball specialist.  If S.Korea get it together in the group stages, there could be goals.  And he could be among them.

Honduras - Group H prospects

When you first look at Group H, it’s tempting to write Honduras off as the also-rans.

Group H
Spain / Switzerland / Chile / Honduras

Not only are Spain hot favourites to clinch the group-winners berth, they are also many pundits’ top-tip to walk off with the whole show.

Chile had an impressive qualification for World Cup 2010, finishing second in their conference.  They were one point off top-spot, which was taken by Brazil and out-qualified Argentina (4th), whom they beat 1-0 at home along the way.

Switzerland also had a successful qualifying campaign, finishing top of their group and suffering only one defeat - an embarrasing 2-1 reversal away to Luxembourg.

And then we have Honduras themselves, who qualified literally in the last minute and with their fate out of their own hands.  Only an equaliser for USA in injury-time during their match with Costa Rica sent Honduras through.

FIFA’s world rankings won’t be of much comfort to Hondurans either.

Spain - 2
Chile - 18
Switzerland - 24
Honduras - 38

But all is not lost.  Honduras have played Spain only once in their history and came away with a very credible 1-1 draw.

They’ve played Chile a total of 5 times and the honours are (almost) equal.  2 wins and 3 losses.

They have never met Switzerland.

So whilst they will firmly be the underdogs in this group; with their proud footballing heritage, a passionate following, some very gifted players (including Wigan’s Wilson Palacios and their top-scoring Carlos Pavon) and semi-decent record against their opponents, they could just squeek through the knock-out phase.

Viva Los Catrachos!

"Forever in your debt" - Man United and the Glazers

Man Utd

The news media, especially in and around Manchester are buzzing today with the news that the Glazer family, who own Premier League club Manchester United, have spiralling debts even greater than most people feared.

And what’s worse, their other businesses, that many would have had us believe meant that United didn’t face any future jeopardy, are said to be in all kinds of trouble.

A spokesperson for the Glazers has said that they have combined assets worth in excess of £2 billion.  But reports now suggest that their debts have risen to £1.1 billion and that they are looking at interest rates of 16.25% on the £700 million debt specific to Manchester United.

The takeover deal of Manchester United involved borrowing almost £650 million.  And many fair-minded fans at least gave them the benefit of the doubt, assuming they had a plan as to how and when they would pay that money back.  Instead, the debt has been transferred to the club, placing it’s previous strength on the field and in the transfer market into serious doubt.

The bulk of the Glazers’ assets are held within First Allied Corporation and their suite of shopping malls in America.  The news that is set to stun Man Utd fans and all right-thinking football fans is that their mall businesses are struggling in the current economic climate and that they owe up to $400 million against 63 of their 64 malls.  Most of this debt was tied up with Lehman Brothers before their collapse prompted the global financial meltdown.  But as much as they are no longer in existence, the debt is - and it’s growing.

Many of the Glazer’s malls are not generating enough to keep up with the interest payements alone and as property prices plummet, even as assests they are in negative equity.  28 of them have been put on ‘Watch Lists’ indicating the banks are concerned about their ability to be repaid, and four of their malls have actually declared bankruptcy.  And all of this was debt that was previously unknown to most United fans.

As a result, the Glazers are facing accusations of handling the economic downturn appallingly - heaping further pressures on themselves and of course their assets, such as Manchester United.

Andy Green is a city analyst and has recently joined the Green & Gold anti-Glazer campaign after gaining a first-hand understanding of their debt levels.  He said of the Glazers,

"The Glazers have called the US property market appallingly badly. They borrowed more money at inflated valuations right at the top of the cycle.
These are people who tell us not to worry about Manchester United debt because they are great businessmen. In their core business in the US they got it absolutely wrong.”

For their part, Manchester United are saying all the right things, stating publicly that the Glazers have been true to their word since buying the club and that the £200 million of PIK’s (Payment in Kind loans) is not something that ‘involves the club’.

But when you consider that the Glazer’s are seriously considering using cash from Red Football, their parent conmpany that owns Manchester United, to manage the PIK’s - I’d suggest it has a lot to do with the club.

And United aren’t alone in the their predicament.

Portsmouth avoided bankruptcy in the 11th hour and both Aston Villa and Liverpool are heavily debt-laden.

It would be nice if I could think back fondly on the irony of Liverpool fans taunting us at Old Trafford with ‘Star-Spangled banners’ and fake dollars when the Glazer’s first took over.  But I can’t.  It’s not so funny any more is it?

And to this point, I think the FA, but more so the Premier League should hang their heads in shame.  We’ve prostituted one of the most beloved institutions in the land to whichever whore-mongers wanted to pay the highest price.  But it isn’t them who are ultimately paying the price is it?  It’s the fans.  Fans that may be left without a club at all, if the worst-case scenarios start to play themselves out.

Sure, we’ve seen some of football’s greatest ply their trade in our league.  We have some of the finest stadia in the sporting world.  And Premier League players are rewarded (mind-bogglingly) handsomely for what they do.

But has it been worth it?  I happen to think not.

So thank-you Randy Lerner, Tom Hicks & George Gillett and especially to the Glazer family. 

We are forever in your debt!

My top 10 sporting heroes

Listed below are my top 10 sporting heroes.  I’ve deliberately stopped short of using the phrase ”greatest”.  I appreciate that this is purely subjective but hey, that’s why I’ve called it ‘my’ top 10.

1.  Bryan Robson OBE

Bryan Robson 

Captain Marvel.  Captained his country 90 times, often when lesser mortals wouldn’t have taken to the field.  He is the longest serving captain in Manchester United’s club history, where he moved for a British transfer record of £1.5 million.

Quite simply would be the first name on the team sheet for me.  A true legend. 

2.  Sir Bobby Charlton

Sir Bobby Charlton

Another absolute legend - for club and country, and a true gent to boot.

Won many honours throughout a glittering career, including 3 league championships, the FA cup, the European cup and of course, the World cup.

And he prompted Pele to say this, “Bobby Charlton is more than one of the very greatest players.  He is the spirit of football”.

3.  Ryan Giggs OBE

OK so there’s a football bias here but that was going to happen.  And Ryan Giggs was in no danger of failing to make my list.

He’s played at the top level for so long is hard to remember what it was like before.  And he’s picked up an astonishing 30 club honours with Manchester United which include 11 Premier League titles, 4 FA cups and 2 Champions Leagues.

Clearly, a knighthood in waiting.

4.  Sir Roger Bannister

An athletic legend and the man who first broke the sub 4-minute mile.  Which wasn’t just a fantasic physical feat, but was also a triumph of his total belief in his own ability.

He paved the way for all athletes to achieve more than they currently thought was possible.

5.  Linford Christie OBE

One sportsman that has inspired me more than most.  The 100 metres final from the Barcelona Olympics still gives me chills!!

And anyone that has ever seen him race won’t doubt how serious Linford was when he said that he started every race, “on the ‘b’ of the bang!”

6.  Steve Davis OBE

In my opinion ‘The Nugget’ is the best player to have played the sport.  Completely dominated during an era of greats and single-handedly  inspired most of those that followed.

Won 6 World Championships, 6 UK Championships and 3 Masters tiltles during his brilliant career.  And has since gone on to enjoy great success on the American Pool circuit and is more than just a modest poker player.

7.  Curtis Martin

I just loved watching Curtis Martin run with the ball.  He ran for more than 10,000 total yards for the Jets where he played for eight seasons. 

He became only the second player to run for over 1000 yards in his first 10 seasons and became the oldest player to win a rushing title in 2004, when he was 31.

In 2005 he became only the 4th player in NFL history to run for more than 14,000 totals yards.  Sharing the feat with three absolute legends of the game – Walter Payton, Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders.

8.  Ruud Gullit

Would absolutely be one of the first names in my all-time world XI.  The only problem Gullit gives you is where to play him.  A master tactician of the game when he’s on the field, he excelled in Centre midfield, was awesome at centre-half and could play up front effortlessly.

Scored one of the best headers I’ve ever seen whilst sporting one the game’s truly great moustaches.

With AC Milan, he won 3 Serie A titles, 2 European Cups, 2 Uefa Super-cups and 2 Intercontinental cups.  He also won the European Championships with Holland in 1988.

9.  Oscar Pistorius

The Blade Runner.  If you’re in any doubt as to how inspirational he is, just read his book.  He often accompanies the slogan, “The fastest man on no legs” but hasn’t let the double amputation he had as a child get in the way of achieving his dreams.

And his one mission in life…. to be able to compete alongside able-bodied athletes.

I had the pleasure of meeting him last year and he is a very humble yet inspiring guy.

10.  Allison Fisher

Rose to the very top of women’s snooker and even broke into the men’s rankings – no mean feat.

Feeling she wasn’t getting the support or credit within the game, she set off for America to take on the challenge of the professional Pool circuit.  She enjoyed immediate success, winning the second tournament she entered, and hasn’t looked back since.

Nicknamed the ‘Duchess of Doom’ she has an unequalled record (by a long way) of a total of 50 WPBA (World Professional Billiards Association) titles.  Seriously, 50 titles.  Her talent has been compared to that of Joe Davis, Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry.

"Only an imbecile worries" - Honduras and the football war

Hey… everyone has a second team right?  And under any normal circumstances mine would be Switzerland, but this time - it’s Honduras.

We all know that football is massive in the Latin-American states.  As is religion.  In fact football is a religion.  And as I’ve been doing some research into Honduras, and particularly Honduran football, I’ve seen just how dramatic this obsesion with football has been.

The Honduran flag is made up of five blue stars centred on a white panel, that is framed by two blue stripes. 

Honduras national flag

The stars represent the five founder nations of the former Federal Republic of Central America; Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

It was with one of these neighbouring countries that a football match was to spawn violence the likes of which we can barely fathom - no matter how bad things have been here through the 1970’s and 80’s.

In 1969 the entire footballing world was enthralled in the qualifying campiagn for the 1970 world cup.  Honduras, as you’d expect were often involved in local derby matches involving other teams from the Federal Republic of Central America.  This particular campaign saw them drawn at home against the equally fanatical El Salvador.

As is customary on many such occasions, and to give their team the very best chance of success, a large gathering of Honduran fans had decided to treat the El Salvador to some old fashioned hospitality.  This involved descending on the hotel where the El Salvadorian team was staying and ensuring that they didn’t get a wink of sleep.  Between stoning windows, singing national songs and letting off fireworks, they seemed to have achieved their goal.

A fatigued El Selvador went on to lose 1-0 the day after.

Not enough to spark true widespread violence right?  And certainly nothing that would lead to a war?  Tell that to Amelia Bolanios.

Eighteen at the time and as passionate as anyone about El Salvador, she showed this devotion through the ultimate sacrifice.  As the Hondurans were celebrating, she pulled her father’s pistol and shot herself through the heart.

As a true football martyr she bacame an instant national hero.  So much so that she was given a full state funeral, with her cortege followed by the President, his parliamentary ministers and the El Salvador football team.

In the midst of all this national posturing and footballing pride, it became apparent that due to the closeness of the qualifying campaign, a rematch with El Salvador would be required.  And this time, it would be the Hondurans on hostile territory.

Treated to even more violence than their own fans had ‘meat’-ed out, they endured broken hotel windows and the ignominy of having rotten meat and animal carcases thrown into their rooms.  At the stadium, they also witnessed their national flag being burned.

Again, no surprises that the away team lost.  This time 3-0.

And then the violence really started.  Amidst the ensuing rioting, the Honduran team were smuggled safely out of the country but many of their fans weren’t so lucky - many were killed and hundreds were hospitalised.

Clearly, the El Salvadorans didn’t think this was revenge enough.  But what would be?  How about flying a plane over Honduras and dropping a bomb on a city of 250,000 people?  Too much?  Well that’s what happened.

And guess what, it then became a war.  The borders were closed and many of the border towns were shelled into complete distruction.  Refugee camps were set up to take care of the displaced, and many national stadia in both states were used to house the ‘enemy’ nationals that had been rounded up in each respective country.

But just like with football, hostilities such as this have a way of forging national pride and this was represented in a piece of grafitti at the time:

Only an imbecile worries - Nobody beats Honduras

Following international condemnation and intense pressure from the other Central American states, the war ended a little over four days later.  But in around 100 hours, this football war had resulted in over 6,000 deaths, 15,000 people injured and many thousands more homeless.

An official ceasefire was drawn up in 1980 but sporadic violence is still relatively common.

So, should your team be drawn against Los Catrachos (Honduras) at the World Cup - watch out!!  And if they happen to win 1-0, don’t take it too hard!!

I love the world cup for many reasons.  Mainly the football and the chance of England being crowned world champions, but also the pure carnival that it brings with it.  People everywhere coming together through a shared love (or indeed dislike) of a particular nation.
And very much in the spirit of this, a number of the different departments at work have ‘adopted’ a team for World Cup 2010.
So as well as England (obviously), I’ll be cheering on the mighty Honduras this time too.
Viva Los Catrachtos!

I love the world cup for many reasons.  Mainly the football and the chance of England being crowned world champions, but also the pure carnival that it brings with it.  People everywhere coming together through a shared love (or indeed dislike) of a particular nation.

And very much in the spirit of this, a number of the different departments at work have ‘adopted’ a team for World Cup 2010.

So as well as England (obviously), I’ll be cheering on the mighty Honduras this time too.

Viva Los Catrachtos!