Brian Clough: Nottingham’s adopted son

“Rome wasn’t built in a day. But I wasn’t on that particular job.”

Clough really did walk a tightrope between genius and madness, veering to the latter more often than not, but his achievements are irrefutable, and no one can begrudge his legendary status with English football. When he took Derby County from the second division to become champions of English football in 1972, he proved that success is notbc2 always about having deeper pockets than your opponents, but man-management and strong leadership could prevail.

As a player, Brian Clough was a prolific striker for Middlesbrough and Sunderland in the late 1950s and early 1960s. However, all of his goals were all in the lower leagues and he only managed to gain two full England caps. Unfortunately his playing career was brought to an early end in 1962, but soon after, in 1965, Clough took his first manager’s job at Fourth Division Hartlepool United and appointed Peter Taylor as his assistant. This was the start of an enduring partnership that would bring them success at numerous clubs over the next two decades, although the relationship certainly became strained at several points.

The first example of their success was with Derby County.  In 1967 both Taylor and Clough moved on to Derby County, who were then in the Second Division. In the very next season, Clough took them to success as Second Division champions and promotion. Three years later, Derby were crowned champions of England for the first time in the club’s history, and in 1973 they reached the semi-finals of the European Cup.

The second example of Clough impressive record came shortly afterwards in 1975. At this point Clough had joined sleeping giant Nottingham Forest who were near the bottom of the Second Division, re-uniting with Taylor in 1976. This was a return to winning ways, as bc3Forest were promoted in 1977 and the following season won the league title for the first time in the club’s history. This made Clough one of only four managers to have won the English league with two different clubs. Forest also won two consecutive European Cups (in 1979 and 1980) and two League Cups (1978 and 1979). Clough retired from football in 1993, after Forest were relegated from the Premier League.

On the face of it, Brian Clough defied all good leadership models. After all, where does it say to embarrass and humiliate your chairman day in day out, or tell your star-studded team to disregard all they’ve previously won and anything they’ve previously been told?

However, in many respects, he was actually a model leader, understanding that he needed to vary his leadership style to fit the situation in order to achieve the results that put Clough into football’s ‘Hall of Fame’. His outspokenness was part of the gift. Clough knew that management wasn’t about an endless stream of bland, abstract jargon with which no one could disagree – sometimes it was in everyone’s interest to know exactly where they stood, especially as Clough was never one to mince his words.

Clough epitomised self-confidence. Brian Clough can be considered as one of the very best in the business at a visionary style of leadership, especially when we consider his ability to inspire struggling second-tier teams to believe that they could win the Championship orbc1 European Cup. Clough used his own indomitable personality to develop a strong performance culture within each of his teams he was involved with.

He believed in discipline, having control of everything football related, but most of all he was a man motivator. He was an excellent communicator, creating a sense of self belief in his players. And even though it didn’t come across in ‘Damned United’, he had excellent interpersonal skills in knowing how to deal with people. Some he would challenge and motivate to produce their best; others he would take under his wing and build their confidence.

Whatever you think of Mr Clough, he certainly was an asset to the football world and on the day that Sir Alex Ferguson managed his last game in English football,  it was Clough who developed a new breed of football manager, and who knows, would the famous ‘hair-drier treatment’ have emerged without the inspiration figure of the one and only Brian Clough.

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Stiliyan Petrov – An inspiration

With all the furore surrounding Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement at Old Trafford and theSP1 very recent appointment of fellow boring Scot David Moyes, it is no wonder that the more touching, more personal and more engaging story of Aston Villa midfielder Stiliyan Petrov has gone under the radar. I say Aston Villa midfielder, but as of today Petrov has retired from football as he continues his fight against acute leukaemia.

Nine days ago it was the one-year anniversary of Aston Villa captain Petrov being diagnosed with acute leukaemia (on March 30 2012). Petrov’s fight against the illness has obviously not been an easy one. Despite the news in August last year that he was in remission, the battle goes on to this day and for the foreseeable future although there does appear to finally be light at the end of the tunnel.

Villa manager and close friend, Paul Lambert spoke last week and reiterated what was on the minds of football fans everywhere,“I can’t imagine what he has been through and I don’t think anyone can and the way he has battled strongly. For him to come through has been unbelievable.”

ImageThe past year has been a tough one for Villa supporters in terms of what has happened on the pitch, but Petrov’s fight has seemingly proved an inspiration and acted also as the glue to bring them together – as evidenced in their 6-1 thumping of Sunderland only last week. The continued tribute on the 19 minute mark at matches is testament to this, and has also acted as a catalyst in building a better club atmosphere which has increasingly become strained as fans, manager and owner have often not seen eye to eye. The atmosphere and support of the home fans will be crucial in the Premier League run in as Villa are not mathematically safe just yet.

It was incredibly fitting for Liverpool to be the visitors to Villa Park on such an anniversary, as many Villa fans have noted that their supporters have been particularly generous in supporting and paying tribute to Petrov. Indeed, Villa’s first away trip after the terrible news of Petrov’s diagnosis was, as if by fate, away at Anfield – now there’s one for you superstitious lot out there!

Petrov’s contract was due to run out in June, and Lambert had stated that if he was fit and well, and also interested, there could be a coaching role at Villa Park for him.

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He’d certainly be an inspirational and knowledgeable character in life and football to have around for any player to learn from. It appears, for the time being that is, Petrov will be taking a break away from football but if he was ever to go back in whatever capacity I’m sure he would be welcomed with open arms.

This feel good story certainly makes a change from the endless cycle of stories about Manchester United and whilst it may get overlooked right now, Stiliyan Petrov will serve as an inspiration for years to come.

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The uneasy relationship between politics and sport

In the past few months, a lot has been said about how sport and politics should be kept apart. But however much we’d like this to be case, the simple fact is that they are inextricably linked – two notable and high profile examples being the case of Sunderland manager Paulo Di Canio and even more recently the rather unattractive scenes that accompanied the recent Bahrain Grand Prix.Bahrain_2195737b

It is sad that sporting bodies and questionable regimes work so closely. Although the host city of the 1936 Berlin Olympics was decided before Hitler came to power, there is no denying that the Nazis used the Olympics to promote their evil ideas.

More recently, a central premise of the 2008 Beijing Olympics was that the Games would improve the political situation in communist China. But now the athletes, the press, and the IOC have left, it seems that this promise never materialised.

It’s all well and good having IOC president Jacques Rogge saying the Olympics are “a sporting, not a political association,” but this is to completely ignore ways in which the Olympics can give undemocratic states “soft power” and legitimacy within the international community.

This is why some of the world’s tyranic leaders came to Britain to watch the 2012 Games – olympa real sad state of affairs. Just look at Syria. The head of their Olympic committee, General Mofwaq Joumaa, who still has links to Bashar al-Assad’s regime – which UN observers say killed 49 children last Friday alone – attended the Olympic Games!

Following this, The Foreign Office said that “entry would be refused for individuals whose presence in the UK was not “conducive to the public good.”” The international community must isolate the Syrian government, making them aware their actions are wrong. While the Olympics pale into insignificance when you look at the actions of Assad’s (and other human rights abusers’) forces, an attendance at the 2012 Games surely sent out completely the wrong message.

Of course, it’s not just the Olympics which need be wary of the message they send out. Des Kelly last year wrote about the attitudes in countries chosen by FIFA and UEFA to host international tournaments. It is absolutely ridiculous that the parents of non-white England players feel they cannot support the team in Ukraine due to fears of racist abuse.

Chris Rogers said on the now infamous ‘Panorama’ documentary that UEFA claimed the legacy of Euro 2012 will be to “help address racism” in the countries. But how on earth did they win the right to host the tournament in countries where the authorities seem to be inmugabe denial about racism? Those who run football must learn that in spite of “respect” campaigns, racism is still a problem – partly because the punishments against it are little more than pathetic.

Organisations like the IOC, UEFA, and let’s not forget FIFA, have a responsibility to protect their events from questionable regimes. Such actions are a subtle but important way for the international community to be heard. They can provide a further voice telling the likes of Assad and Mugabe that their time is up. A ban from high profile sporting events is the very least they could do

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Blackburn Rovers – The never ending nightmare

It’s been a long time since I wrote, but as I sit here having watched Blackburn scrape past Milwall in a pretty turgid encounter which sees the side sit tantalisingly close to safety within the championship, there are so many issues that need addressing within the club it is almost untrue! As a football fan, and sports fan in general, success and more importantly FBL-ENG-FACUP-MILLWALL-BLACKBURNwinning is key to keeping the fans and club going, but a factor even more important than success is what many believe to be the cornerstone of any successful club – stability. As such this makes it even more unbelievable to think that dear old Blackburn have gone from arguably the best run football club in the country to hands down the worst – a few weeks ago Blackburn had more managers than away wins this season, a point not lost on the fans. I could go on-and-on giving possible explanations for such mediocrity but these peaks and troughs, I suppose, are part and parcel of being a football supporter however we come to support our particular club and however much we curse the management, the board, and the players every week!

 The process by which some of us come to support the football clubs we do is a strange one. With some, it is a home town association, others develop some childish liking for a name, colours or star player and find it sticks, while for still others it is hereditary, passed down the generations following in the father’s footsteps. But whatever its origins, it produces a peculiar loyalty, quite unlike any other.

All our other attachments, whether it’s to “our” newspaper, favourite drink, website, holiday destination, have some sort of breaking point. If our paper grows tired and tedious, if our holiday venue becomes overdeveloped, if our drink changes its taste or blend, then we switch to something, or someone, else.

b1Bizarrely, this connection between performance and continued loyalty seems not to apply to the football club to whom we give our allegiance. This may seem an odd thought to a supporter of Arsenal, Manchester United or Chelsea, for whom a bad season is one in which no major trophy is added to the cabinet, but it is not to those of us who follow – unswervingly, if not uncritically – football’s subordinates. No one knows this better than we Blackburn Rovers supporters, who have experienced years in the mid-table doldrums of the second tier, the dizzy heights of a Full Members’ Cup final triumph, the scarcely credible winning of the Premiership some 18 years ago, and even, in the mid-Seventies, a brief excursion to the old Third Division. Whatever the troughs, however self-inflicted the damage, the sight of the old blue-and-white halves has retained the capacity to stir the blood.

And so, speaking of things being stirred, we come to this season, one in which you would need the fingers of more than one hand to count the number of Blackburn managers, both “permanent” and acting. The club have proved far better at firing than hiring, hence the tumble down the Championship table. You would need to be a fly on the boardroom wall and have access to all emails to know whether the blame lies with the owners, Venky’s, or Blackburn Rovers chickenothers. But there are two things I suspect. First, that an ownership from the Indian subcontinent was always likely to struggle to get an entirely prejudice-free hearing in some quarters. Second, that Venky’s have yet to understand that a major English football club are not A.N. Other franchise, to be managed remotely, and at time capriciously, but a unique entity to which their followers (their market, in other words) are viscerally and permanently attached.

Most of us would still be looking for Blackburn Rovers’ results and cheering them on even if they were turning out in the Lancashire Leagues which is all the more reason, then, for the owners to begin a process of outreach, of talking to, and learning from, their fans, their Trust, and the town to which they ultimately belong. That way, they may show some sign that they recognise the true nature of the club they have bought and steer the fast-sinking ship away from the doldrums of Championship relegation and back towards the ‘promised land’ of Premier League football.

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Mark Boucher – A cruel end for poucher Boucher

Many think sportsmen have it all. In many respects this is true; the jet set lifestyle, celebrity girlfriends, and few monetary worries only add weight to the case that a professional sportsman is the dream job. However, whilst sport can provide us with the highest of highs, it can at the same time be the cruellest of all mistresses. Mark Boucher’s recent eye injury and subsequent retirement is testament to this, leaving a sparkling but arguably slightly unfulfilled career behind him.

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The 35 year old South African wicketkeeper was struck by a bail while standing up to the stumps on day one of the tour match with Somerset. Following the incident Proteas captain Graeme Smith, said Boucher faced “a road of uncertain recovery” and Boucher subsequently announced his retirement from international cricket. In a statement Boucher stated “it is with sadness and in some pain, that I make this announcement. Due to the severity of my eye injury, I will not be able to play international cricket again.”

Sport can really be cruel as we can see but whilst it is easy to dwell on what could have been and how Boucher’s career has devastatingly been cut short, we can alternatively look back on Boucher’s career as highly successful, developing into one of the greatest wicketkeepers of all time. Former South Africa coach Mickey Arthur stated “he’s right up there. You look at his batting and wicket keeping stats and they are phenomenal. He’s going to be hugely missed.” And hugely missed he will be. Whilst Boucher’s retirement paves the way for Thami Tsolekile to have another stab at consolidating his place behind the sticks, Boucher’s legacy will undoubtedly hang over his replacement’s head with constant comparison undoubtedly being made – only time will tell if he can live up to his predecessors successes.

For Boucher, success has not been straightforward. Dips in form alongside clashes with administrators, coaches and politicians have led to the 35 year old often being taken for granted and disliked amongst his colleagues, leading ultimately to his axing from the ODI team 12 months before last year’s World Cup – a decision that caused Boucher considerable pain.

Whilst a blow like that might cripple many sportsmen, Boucher’s career has been typified by his determination to improve. A drive for success and be the best he can be has helped the South African keeper become of one of the most revered and respected cricketers in history. This drive was typified by that fact that he arrived in England last week on the back of his best fitness test results in a decade, having led the squad through some of the most gruelling physical challenges any of them had ever undertaken at the pre-tour camp in the Swiss Alps. Determination was at the epicentre of his career and nothing was going to stop him going out on top.

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Interestingly enough if you are a superstitious type then the symmetry of the numbers is intriguing! The third Test of the England Vs. South Africa series would have been Boucher’s 150th and last test, at the home of cricket, Lords. Furthermore there will always be something slightly Bradmanesque about his record haul of 999 international dismissals – leaving the game as the wicketkeeper with the most number of overall dismissals in international cricket for a wicketkeeper with Adam Gilchrist placed second.

Despite rubbing many people up the wrong way and giving out more than his fair share of verbal’s to opposite batsmen, Boucher will be remembered as one South Africa’s finest cricketers. Whilst his batting stats would suggest a career unfulfilled, only averaging only 30.30 in test cricket, his excellence behind the stumps more than makes up for this and will undoubtedly be sorely missed by players and fans alike.

He may even lose the sight in one eye, which would be awful. But it is not life and death. Boucher’s Tweets confirmed that he needed not reminding of that. Mark Verdon Boucher doesn’t do self-pity. A cricketing legend has most certainly been born!

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3G: The plague of hockey? (Preview)

It’s been a while sports fans and I apologise for my absence! No doubt you have been checking the blog religiously to see if I have updated anymore sporting gold but this time you are in for a treat!

Well I say this time, I am teasing you slightly. The article hasn’t been finished yet as finding time to complete it in between revising is proving increasingly difficult, however I do promise to take you on a journey that will reveal the startling and increasingly worrying (from a hockey point of view) trend for the conversion of astro-turf pitches to be replaced by Third Generation (3G) long-pile turf pitches. Through extensive churning of statistics from England Hockey, Sport England and the interpretation of the ‘Active People Survey’ I find some very interesting facts get thrown up. Eg. more participation, less facilities. Intriguing!

Before I head to bed, here is a small case study that exemplifies. In 2010, in the quarter mile radius from Sheffield University’s Goodwin Sports Centre there were 4 hockey astro-turfs and 1 3G surface which facilitated numerous University sports team, societies and local club (Sheffield Uni Bankers, Medics, Leopold etc). 2 years on in that same are there are now 4 3G pitches and just the one hockey astro-turf for Sheffield University (10 teams), Sheffield University Bankers (11 teams), Sheffield Medics (2 teams), Leopold (1 team) and a couple of other non-league,social hockey teams. Will they fit? It will be a squeeze – I don’t envy the person in charge of pitch bookings!

Bye for now and hopefully we’ll have this article up soonish!

Cheers

Ps. Just to give those who think I will slate 3G pitches throughout the article some piece of mind, please be assured the published article will be as balanced as possible and provide pros and cons for both sides of the arguement.

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Match Preview – 10/03/12

Just a quick one today sports fans, been rather busy lately! I promise I will publish something both interesting and intriguing early next week for you to dissect! To keep you entertained in the meantime here is a brief preview of this weekends fixtures in the North Premier…

City of York (10th) vs. Ben Rhydding (11th)

Big game for both sides. A win for the home side would put some breathing between them and the dreaded relegation places, whilst Rhydding are scrapping for their lives and really need to win to retain any hope of keeping their spot in the division.

Prediction: Home Win

Durham University (3rd) vs. Oxton (5th)

Interesting fixture this one, Oxton turned over the uni boys 5-0 at home and whilst they are the form side in the league, Durham’s defeat to Sheffield last week will have hurt. As a result I expect a reaction of sorts with Durham just about prevailing.

Prediction: Home Win

Kingston-Upon-Hull (12th) vs. Brooklands (9th)

Having won their last three, Brooklands will be looking to make it 4 wins on the bounce as Hull host their Mancunian rivals. Hull are in dire straights and look dead certs for relegation following a horrid run of form. Only one result here for me, a win for the away side, and by some.

Prediction: Away Win

Sheffield University Bankers (4th) vs. Timperley (8th)

Bankers will be in a buoyant mood following two excellent away wins last weekend, but so will Timperley following excellent results against both Bowdon and Wakefield. Timperley often bely their lowly 8th position and as a result this should be a cracker; the game of the weekend according to the broadsheets. However I’m going to have to back the home side especially as the ‘sourz in the showers’ will taste so much sweeter with 3 points in their back pockets.

Prediction: Home Win

University of Leeds (7th) vs. Bowdon (2nd)

Leeds are a tricky team to predict. They have the capability to impress hugely or just completely lose it! Bowdon present the sternest of tests for the Leeds boys, but I fully expect them to step up to the plate and take something from the game – especially as they are still flirting with the relegation places.

Prediction: Draw

Wakefield (1st) vs. Formby (6th)

After last weeks disappointing result for Wakefield, I fully expect them to smash Formby off the park. In their last game of the season at College Grove they will want to give their home support a right royal send off. Formby will battle away but Wakefield’s class will show through I feel.

Prediction: Home Win

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