Category Archives: Sports

Common decency divides two nations

By Calvin Palmer

Two gymnasts entered the North Greenwich Arena at the London Olympics yesterday with the expectation of walking away with a gold medal for an individual event. One was American; the other was British. One was female; the other male.

Mckayla Maroney, one of America’s Fab Five gymnasts who took gold in the team event, was competing in the vault. In the build up to the event, NBC presented her with typical American hype and depicted her in a series of photographs that would not have looked out of place in a men’s glamour magazine. For the record, Maroney is only 16.

In the arena, Maroney strutted around with a look of smug confidence that only Americans can conjure up. The look on her face simply said: “The gold medal is mine. I don’t know why these other girls have bothered turning up.” We saw that look of hubris quite a bit during NBC’s coverage because Maroney was competing seventh out of eight competitors.

Eventually, her turn came. Her first vault was the best in the competition and partly justified that smug look on her face. Her second vault ended in disaster – she landed in a sitting position.

Maroney lands in a sitting position during the vault competition (AP Photo/Gregory Bull).

Occasionally, nemesis has a habit of striking the right person and no one was more deserving of her fate than Maroney.

The final competitor, Sandra Izbasa of Romania, completed two less complex vaults with few errors and outscored the American to take the gold medal.

What followed seemed to reinforce the sense of nemesis. Maroney, like a spoiled brat, failed to congratulate the Romanian girl. In fact, the Romanian girl, with good grace, went to console Maroney with a hug. Maroney was unresponsive, looking over the Romanian girl’s right shoulder with a stony sulky stare, consumed in her own disappointment.

In the men’s pommel horse event, Great Britain’s Louis Smith had high hopes of winning a gold medal event after he recorded the highest score in the qualifying round.

The pressure was on Smith after Hungarian rival Krisztian Berki delivered a flawless routine that earned a score of 16.066. Smith rose to the challenge and matched the Hungarian’s effort. With both men scoring 16.006, the gold medal went to Berki who had a marginally higher execution score – 9.166 to Smith’s 9.066.

Four years ago, Smith suffered a similar fate in Beijing when he tied with Croatia’s Filip Ude for silver but lost out in the tie-break and ended up with bronze.

Once the result had sunk in, Smith – unlike the petulant Maroney – walked over to Berki and warmly congratulated the gold medal winner in the true spirit of sportsmanship.

Sportsmanship from Smith and Berki. Picture courtesy of metropol.hu.

Smith will have won a great many admirers for the dignified manner in which he handled his disappointment. Maroney’s behaviour earned her zero points for how to cope with defeat. Her behaviour was anything but fabulous.

The face of a champion: Mckayla Maroney on the medal rostrum after only winning silver in the vault event. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

No one likes a sore loser and Maroney was sore in more senses of the word than one. She did herself, and her country, no favours with her conduct yesterday.

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British athletes create an Olympic night to remember

By Calvin Palmer

Sporting events conjure up many memorable moments but I doubt I will witness anything more moving or memorable than the medal ceremony of Olympic heptathlon winner Jessica Ennis.

The award of her gold medal crowned an evening of great British achievements that started with the Women’s Pursuit Team of Dani King, Laura Trott and Joanna Rowsell burning their American rivals off the track to claim not only Olympic gold but also a new world record, breaking the one they set in the opening round of the competition.

From the Velodrome, the action moved to the Olympic Stadium where Great Britain was in with a chance of claiming three gold medals in one session of an Olympic games for the very first time.

Ennis had the gold medal in her grasp even before she stepped out on the track for the final event of the women’s heptathlon. She surpassed herself in both the long jump and javelin earlier in the day. Ennis just needed to run the 800 metres event in a decent time to ensure the gold medal.

She did more than that.

Ennis led the field from start to finish, winning the race in magnificent style and racking up a total of 6,995 points, 306 points ahead of Germany’s Lilli Schwarzkopf in silver and 327 clear of world champion Tatyana Chernova in bronze.

There was hardly time to draw breath before Great Britain chalked up its second athletics gold medal of the night when Greg Rutherford won the long jump. His fourth round of jump of 8.31metres (27 feet and 3.1 inches for Americans) was enough to give him the gold medal, and for the first time since Lynn Davies won gold in the long jump at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. I hate to say it but I remember that.

The crowning glory to make it a night to remember not only for British athletics but also the whole of Britain came when Mo Farah stormed home to win the 10,000 metres race. Farah made his move just before the sound of the bell for the last lap of the race. He stepped up a gear that left the other competitors trailing behind. They tried to catch him but Farah proved unassailable and supreme.

On this magnificent evening, I doubt there is not an expat anywhere in the world who does not feel immensely proud to be British. I know I certainly do, although times of great British elation are also accompanied here in Northeast Florida by the loneliness of the long-distance runner.

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Cowboys coach Garrett shows Dalglish the right way to handle defeat

By Calvin Palmer

In terms of clear cut chances Liverpool should have left the Britannia Stadium on Saturday afternoon with a 3-0 victory over Stoke City. Liverpool dominated most of the game but possession does not win football matches. Goals do.

Luis Suárez, Liverpool’s Uruguayan striker, uncharacteristically failed to capitalize on two occasions with the goal at his mercy.

The most glaring miss by Liverpoool, however, fell to Jordan Henderson when, on the hour, a pass from José Enrique put him clean through. In a one on one situation with Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, the £20 million signing from Sunderland had his first shot blocked by the keeper. The ball rebounded back to Henderson and his second attempt was similarly blocked by Begovic . Henderson’s third attempt to fire home was blocked by defender Matthew Upson.

Henderson again picked up the rebound and passed the ball to Charlie Adam whose first shot cannoned off Ryan Shawcross and then Adam’s second shot was saved by Begovic.

In some ways it was the stuff of a Benny Hill comedy sketch and on a par with the comedy of errors that occurred during the fourth quarter of last night’s NFL game between the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys. If the action of the last quarter had appeared in a movie, most people would have said it was far-fetched and unrealistic. Sometimes life surpasses fiction.

It all began when Jason Witten almost gave the Cowboys another touchdown but was stopped on the one-yard line. Dallas looked odds on to regain the lead but quarterback Tony Romo fumbled as he tried to score a touchdown.

The comedy was not exclusive to the Cowboys. Moments later Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez was sacked and stripped of the ball. Dallas failed to capitalize and two successive penalties pushed them ten yards back and they were forced to punt.

Joe McKnight blocked the kick and the bouncing ball was scooped up by Isaiah Trufant who ran in the touchdown from 18 yards to bring the scores level at 24-24.

With 59 seconds remaining, Dallas had time for a winning a drive but on the first play Romo served up one of his obligatory intercepts, which set up Nick Folk’s 50-yard winning field goal. That kick must have been all the sweeter for Folk, released by the Cowboys in 2009.

The Cowboys trailed for the first time in the game and the heart had gone out of them. Romo suffered further ignominy when he dropped the ball at the snap in the dying seconds of the game.

In truth the Cowboys should have won much in the same way as Liverpool should have won against Stoke.

But the contrast between post match reactions of the coaches of these losing sides could not have been greater.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said: “We played through the success and adversities of football and kept competing. We clearly need to play better at the end to win the ballgame.”

Liverpool coach Kenny Dalglish chose to target the standard of refereeing in the Premier League.

Dalglish said: “We would like to be respectful to the referees but more importantly is them having respect for my club, and if I feel we’re suffering in any way, then I may need to go the same route as some others and see if I can gain some benefit from that.”

Dalglish’s remarks were sparked by a penalty being awarded by referee Mark Clattenburg to Stoke when defender Jamie Carragher hauled down Jonathan Walters inside the penalty area and Liverpool being denied a penalty when a cross from Suárez hit Upson’s upper arm as he made the block.

But the rules of the game state that players other than the goalkeeper may not deliberately handle the ball with their hands or arms during play. The keyword is “deliberately”. A foul for hand ball should not be awarded if a player is instinctively trying to protect himself from injury or the player did not deliberately touch the ball but the ball hit his arm and he did not move the arm toward the ball.

Upson would have needed to sever his left arm in order to avoid the cross by Suárez hitting it and, therefore, the referee made the right decision. It was ball to hand.

Dalglish can have no complaints about Stoke’s penalty. Carragher clearly held Walters round the waist as the Stoke striker tried to get past him. Walters converted the spot-kick for the only goal of the game and Stoke gained the three points to go fourth in the Premier League.

Apparently some reports claim Stoke’s Rory Delap handled in the area but the TV coverage showed no replay of that incident, which would imply it was a non-issue.

I can well understand Dalglish’s frustration but he has been in the game long enough to know that these kinds of results occur. To vent his frustration on the standard of refereeing serves only to deflect the blame from the failure of his own players to put the ball in the back of the net.

Maybe the Premier League should follow the NFL and have instant reviews of what Dalglish calls contentious decisions. The technology exists but the mindset to introduce it does not. Even if it were introduced, I have the feeling managers would still rant and rail against the decisions handed down. Such is the nature of football.

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Del Rio walks fine line between genius and insanity by cutting Garrard

By Calvin Palmer

Five days before the start of a new NFL season, the Jacksonville Jaguars decided to cut quarterback David Garrard, leaving deputy Luke McCown to step up as the starting quarterback.

In footballing terms, the move by the Jaguars is like Arsenal deciding to sell Cesc Fàbregas.

Oops! They have done.

Okay, it would be like Stoke City getting rid of Rory Delap and his famous long throw-ins.

Actually, that wouldn’t be a bad idea. Delap at 35 is getting past his sell-by date as a Premier League footballer and his long throws no longer have the potency they once had. Premier League defences have wised up to the ploy.

I guess the timing of the news of Garrard’s departure is what is surprising. And there is also a degree of nemesis.

Former Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich was cut a week before the 2007 season and replaced by back-up quarterback David Garrard.

What goes around comes around.

Garrard’s departure has incensed former Jaguars defensive end and ESPN NFL analyst Hugh Douglas.

Douglas was asked in a radio interview if there was one NFL coach he’d like to fight and without pause answered Jack Del Rio.

Douglas said: “If there was ever a coach who needs to be punched in the face for not being truthful to his players, it has to be Jack Del Rio.”

Douglas would need to get to the back of the line. A great many Jaguars fans would also like to punch Del Rio in the face.

Del Rio’s perpetual smug expression on his face just invites it to be hit.

I wonder if fans in Jacksonville are organizing a whip round in order that Douglas can go to the front of the line.

Garrard has reportedly got two offers of a contract with other NFL teams, according to his agent. Who is sworn to secrecy. Well, at least until he figures a way of making a quick buck or two thousand.

NFL pundits are suggesting that the San Francisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins may offer Garrard a new home. I guess that goes to show just how desperate some NFL teams are.

Jacksonville Jaguars are, make no mistake. Still looking on the bright side, if the Jaguars fail to make the play-offs, Del Rio will be out of a job.

William Hill has the Jacksonville Jaguars at 100/1 to win the Superbowl and 9/1 to win the AFC South Division.

See ya, Jack!

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Deadline day signings show Stoke City’s desire to move to the next level

By Calvin Palmer

The summer transfer window has closed. For the past two days I have been glued to The Oatcake, watching and waiting for Stoke City’s moves in the transfer market. I know; it’s sad.

What is even sadder is my devotion to the fortunes of Stoke City and the amount of time my thoughts are preoccupied by the club. I am in my late fifties and thought I would have outgrown the hold a football team can have.

As a teenager, when Stoke City lost a game I was inconsolable and went into a sulky purdah for two or three days. By Wednesday, my thoughts slowly started to turn to the next game on Saturday and my enthusiasm would steadily grow, reaching a peak at 3:15 pm if Stoke City were at home or 3:00pm if they were playing away.

Going into a sulk if Stoke City lose a game still happens but it tends to last for a couple of hours rather than days.

Someone once said that supporting a football club is like marriage, except there is no prospect of divorce. My devotion to Stoke City really is a case of for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer… till death do us part.

That mindset goes some way to explaining why I sat in front of the computer yesterday for eight hours, watching transfer developments on deadline day.

Stoke City concluded deals that brought in three new players at a cost of some £20 million, maybe even as much as £22 million. The reporting of transfer fees paid is not an exact science.

Stoke brought in Wilson Palacios and Peter Crouch from Tottenham Hotspur; Cameron Jerome from Birmingham City. Football pundits reckon the club did good business. Those three acquisitions have certainly take the club to a higher level.

I had hoped that Stoke would sign Nickolas Bendtner from Arsenal, not only for his footballing abilities but the Danish international’s ego would have meant Stoke would not have had to fill the corners at the Britannia Stadium. Bendtner’s ego would have done that.

Bendtner ended up going to Sunderland on a season-long loan. That deal suggests to me that Arsenal were having second thoughts about letting Bendtner go for good and I think Stoke City lost interest when the player was only available as a loanee.

Nine months in Sunderland, a grim place and a bit like Stoke-on-Trent by the sea, could well rid Bendtner of his delusions of grandeur and make him a more desirable option as a team player by the time of next summer’s transfer window. Stoke City could perhaps go back for him then.

In Peter Crouch, Stoke have gained a high-profile player entering the Indian summer of his career. His international and European experience will prove invaluable during Stoke’s campaign in the Europa League.

I watched Crouch play his last game for Spurs against Manchester City. He missed one header that should have been a goal. All strikers miss clear–cut chances from time to time so I will not hold that against him. I was impressed by his first touch and the way he can hold the ball up before laying it off to a midfield player.

Like I said, I would have preferred Bendtner but I think Crouch will bring a lot to Stoke City and may become the catalyst that attracts other quality players to the club in future transfer windows. I am not holding my breath on Stoke City landing Lionel Messi.

The video clips I have seen of Wilson Palacios in action have left me impressed. His tackling ability is immense and Stoke City have needed a midfield destroyer for a long time.

Before yesterday’s signings, I was a little apprehensive about Stoke’s next league game at home to Liverpool. With Palacios at the heart of Stoke’s midfield, I think Liverpool will have to work extremely hard to gain the upper hand. In fact, it occurred to me that Stoke could have Palacios man-mark Luis Suárez to nullify the Uruguayan’s goal threat.

But teams don’t seem to go in for man marking these days. Older Stoke fans will recall Eric Skeels was often given the task of sticking to a certain opposition star player to reduce their effectiveness and it worked more often than not.

Stoke City’s manager Tony Pulis will obviously have his own game plan. And that is where I start to worry. For all his merits as a manager, strategy and tactics are not his strong points.

Cameron Jerome, the third signing, is one of those players all mid-table sides seem to have. He is never going to set the world on fire but will put in a useful shift. I will retain an open mind on him as a player until I have seen him in action.

Of all the players on the sinking ship that is Birmingham City, I would have liked to see Stoke sign the Blues’ Chilean international winger Jean Beausejour.

Stoke City’s attacking threat comes in the shape of wingers Matthew Etherington and Jermaine Pennant. When they are operating to their maximum potential, Stoke are an attacking force to be reckoned with – just ask Bolton Wanderers and Arsenal.

Etherington seems to be more injury prone these days. Beausejour would have been the perfect back-up signing. Maybe he will become a target for Stoke in the January transfer window.

All in all I am pleased with yesterday’s transfer dealings. Stoke needed to strengthen the squad, particularly in the face of the Europa League campaign. How Pulis employs his new signings remains to be seen. Sometimes I feel he is overwhelmed when he is spoiled for choice regarding the team selection and does better when his options are limited by injury and suspension.

The match against Liverpool on September 10 will give the first indication of what lies ahead for Stoke City. A victory against Liverpool will not automatically mean Stoke will be contesting one of the top four spots in the Premier League but it will give an indication that we could be heading for our highest finish. Seventh or eighth position would further cement the club’s status as an established Premier League outfit. That will do for me. Anything else will be a bonus.

William Hill bookmakers are giving the following odds for Stoke City:

Premier League Outright    5000/1

Top Four Finish    66/1

Relegation    12/1

To Stay Up    1/50

FA Cup    40/1

Carling Cup    33/1

Europa League Outright    40/1

Europa League Group E    15/8

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Stoke City’s window on transfer market remains shut

By Calvin Palmer

With the new season in the Premier League two weeks old, it is a time when I am constantly seeking information as to whether or not my club, Stoke City, has signed any new players and not just any old players but players of real class and quality.

To date, Stoke City’s manager Tony Pulis has brought in Jonathan Woodgate and Matthew Upson, both on free transfers. So far he has not delved into the club’s coffers and paid hard cash.

Pulis keeps talking about the need to bring quality players in but I seriously question his definition of quality. Pulis had targeted Carlton Cole and a deal was agreed with recently relegated West Ham. Cole decided that Stoke was not good enough for him. Huge sighs of relief were exhaled throughout the Potteries.

Since then, Stoke have been linked with Joey Barton, Nickolas Bendtner, Peter Crouch and Wilson Palacios. Of those four, Barton and Bendtner are the pick of the bunch. I don’t particularly admire either of them of as people but they do have the kind of footballing quality that I appreciate.

With Barton’s astute football brain and passing skill, I could see Bendtner scoring a lot of goals from open play and not just set pieces, which are Stoke’s favourite modus operandi in terms of finding the back of the net.

With seven days to go before the transfer window closes, it seems all quiet on the transfer front as far as Stoke City is concerned. I have a feeling a flurry of activity will take place in the final 24 hours.

Online betting company SkyBet offers odds on transfer deals being completed within the summer 2011 transfer window. The adage that it is possible to place a bet on almost anything you care to name appears to be true along with “fools and their money are easily parted”.

SkyBet has these following odds for Stoke City signings:

1/3 to sign Peter Crouch from Tottenham Hotspur;

Evens to sign Nicklas Bendtner from Arsenal;

7/1 to sign Joey Barton from Newcastle United;

12/1 to sign Nicolas Anelka from Chelsea;

12/1 to sign Scott Dann from Birmingham City;

16/1 to sign Roman Pavlyuchenko from Tottenham Hotspur;

20/1 to sign Daniel Sturridge from Chelsea;

25/1 to sign Rob Green from West Ham;

33/1 to sign Scott Parker from West Ham;

40/1 to sign Adel Taarabt from Queens Park Rangers.

Slightly disconcerting for all Stoke City fans is SkyBet showing odds of 4/1 for Arsenal to sign defender Robert Huth and Bayern Munich are quoted at 12/1. If Pulis continues to play Huth at right back instead of his preferred position of central defender, I could see Huth being tempted. And a move to Bayern could well resurrect the German’s international career.

Not surprising, Stoke City does not appear among the odds for players such as Real Madrid’s Kaka or Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez. There is quality and there is quality.

By September 1 all speculation will end. The transfer window will close. Deals completed will be firm deals and not just newspaper talk.

Fingers crossed Stoke land at least Barton and Bendtner. Nicolas Anelka would also do nicely.

Stoke City are also reported to be tracking Uruguayan youth international Untidi who is said to be the new Messi.

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Messi’s magic sees Barcelona crowned as Supercopa champions

By Calvin Palmer

Lionel Messi turned on the magic again to give Barcelona a 3-2 win at the Camp Nou in the second leg of the Supercopa against Real Madrid, a result htat meant the Catalan side became the Supercopa champions 5-4 on aggregate.

Messi was sublime. His first piece of magic came 15 minutes into the game when  a defence-splitting pass saw Iniesta racing clean through before lifting the ball over the advancing Real Madrid goalkeeper Casillas.

A minute before half-time, Messi struck again in his more usual role as a goal scorer. He seized on a back heel from Pique in the Real Madrid penalty area and bore down on the goal, deftly chipping the ball over the diving Casillas to restore Barcelona’s lead.

Messi’s strike had the guile of a truly great goalscorer, quickly sizing up that a conventional shot would be blocked by the keeper. Messi’s delicate shot over the goalkeeper’s outstretched body reminded me of a golfer’s chip shot from the edge of the green.

In the second half, Barcelona eased back a little and paid the consequences when Real’s big striker Benzema steered the ball home at the second attempt when Barcelona’s defence failed to clear the ball from their six-yard area.

With just two minutes remaining on the clock, Messi met a ball whipped across the face of the goal by Adriano and rifled a fierce volley into the back of the net. Casillas had no chance to react.

With four minutes added by the referee, the match turned ugly when Marcelo – he really does need treatment for his psychotic tendencies — scythed down Barcelona’s latest acquisition Cesc Fàbregas.

Marcelo, who had been booked previously, was shown the red card. He should have been sent a few minutes into the second half when he deliberately kicked Messi as the two men challenged for a high ball.

Justice was eventually done and seen to be done.

Marcelo’s sending off resulted in a melée in front of the dugouts. I think a few punches may have been traded but it was impossible to tell. Özil who had been substituted managed to pick up a red card for his involvement in the altercation.

When the game restarted, I have the feeling the referee blew up a little earlier than the four minutes of added-on time to avoid any further flashpoints. Barcelona were the Supercopa 2011 champions.

I watched the match on ESPN3.com, which took the broadcast shown on ESPN Deportes, ESPN’s Latino channel.

The commentary by Fernando Paloma, Martin Ainstein and Mario Kempes was in Spanish made more sense to me than the drivel spouted by Ray Hudson on Gol TV and I do not speak Spanish. Kempes’ credentials as an expert commentator, he played in La Liga and was a member of Argentina’s World Cup winning team in 1978, are far more substantial than Hudson’s 40 games for Newcastle United over a four year period.

I doubt Kempes referred to every player as a genius or described anyone as being “magisterial”.

The match on ESPN3.com was a delight to watch, even if I did not understand a word of the commentary, and infinitely better than my Gol TV experience in the first leg on Sunday.

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