I think I’ve written this before. But Audley Harrison’s professional career looks to be at an end after he was knocked out by American Deontay Wilder after just 70 seconds in Sheffield. Actually, I have penned something not too far removed, when he was decked by David Price last October. But, back Audley bounced and victory in February’s Prizefighter series had him believing again that he could, one day, be heavyweight champion of the world. In fact, he probably woke up on Sunday morning still thinking it, until he realised why his head still hurt as much from the night before.
I once bumped into Harrison in the gents at Wembley. True. Back then he was still living it up as an Olympic gold medallist from Sydney. Thirty-eight professional fights later, he is still an Olympic gold medallist, although you have to keep constantly reminding yourself of that fact, as all that really currently lives in the memory are those seven losses he suffered while being paid. I do wish him well for the future, and really hope someone, somewhere, can do a bit of spin doctoring and rebranding on him, and have people remembering him for how tall and proud he stood in Sydney, not how he looked in Sheffield …
The semi-final of the Heineken Cup matched the Grand Wizard against the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Toulon’s Jonny Wilkinson versus Owen Farrell of Saracens. In the end, youth had to give way to experience, Farrell managing 12 points, but Wilkinson kicking 24 for the French outfit, including one outlandish drop-goal just as he was nailed by the young pretender. Wilkinson, on his back, watched as the ball flapped its way over. The cheer from the travelling French support let Farrell know Wilkinson had succeeded. The pat on the back from the World Cup winner also let Farrell know that he still has a bit to go to match Wilkinson in terms of match-winning, and, sportsmanship.
If it had been a tense affair at Twickenham the same couldn’t be said for the glitzy PFA Player of the Year awards. Nails remained at a decent length, because before anyone at the dinner got near to chewing them in anticipation, results of the poll started landing by text and Tweet, telling them Gareth Bale had won. So much for keeping embargoes!
But finding out ahead of the game appeared to have been the least of the problems at the PFA Awards Dinner, with upset, consternation and embarrassment in abundance after the performance of star turn Reginald D Hunter. The American comedian thought it would be mildly amusing to include the word ‘nigger’ in his set, leading not so much to belly laughs as stifled sniggers of disbelief, especially with everything the PFA have done in anti-racism campaigns and in light of incidents involving John Terry and Luis Suarez. PFA chairman Clarke Carlisle said hiring Hunter was a ‘huge mistake,’ although I’m not the first to let you judge how shocked and perplexed members of the audience were left afterwards.
Meanwhile in Scotland, the league reconstruction debate is finally on its back, kicking its legs in the air, with one last, desperate communiqué from the SPL’s head of paper shuffling, Neil Doncaster, that play-offs could be introduced to decide promotion and relegation. You mean Mr Doncaster, like what we had in the mid-90’s? Yet again, Scottish football defying human mechanics but making giant strides backwards …
All season Aston Villa have threatened to put 90 perfect minutes together. And last night they did just that, a 6-1 trouncing of fellow strugglers Sunderland. Needless to say, Villa fans would have woken up with a smile on their face, although that might have become a look of disbelief if they had been tuned to ESPN’s sports news bulletins, who announced a crushing victory in the English Premier League for ‘Aston Vee-ya’ (as in David, Ricardo or Guillermo), not once but twice. Of course, we have to remember, America did give soccer to the world!
‘The Rocket’ (a proper nickname dreamt up by the master MC Alan Hughes and not one planned and plotted at a BBC humus and dips party) had reached the last four in his defence of the title he won 12 months ago. But, once again, he used a post-match press conference to voice his uncertainty, and even unwillingness, to continue in snooker. It might all sound original and fresh to those who are still dazzled by the TV lights. But to be honest, it’s just the same old record being played over and over and over again. Oh, and before anyone tells me to get with it and refer to MP3’s or CD’s, Ronnie’s ‘I quit’ whine dates back to when vinyl was still it!
So despite their best efforts to unseat him, unnerve him and leave him in no doubt that he was unwanted, Rafa Benitez steers Chelsea to a second-successive European final. Perhaps a come down from the main event, especially for the Champions League winners of 12 months ago, but most, including Chelsea, would gratefully welcome a place in the Europa League final, and a chance to make some history. There, Chelsea will meet Benfica, who I have to admit while watching their game and subsequent highlights, looked mightily like another team I recognised from European competition earlier in the season.
But no, they were knocked out, weren’t they? And thereby hangs an inbuilt (some would say inbred) problem with the Europa League; this ‘catchall’ mechanism in place to give those not good enough to progress in the Champions League some additional interest, both sporting and monetary, into January and beyond. How far beyond was evident again this week, with all four semi-finalists – Chelsea, Benfica, Basel and Fenerbahce – refugees from the big Euro cup, where you get at least six chances to get it right through the group stages, and even then if you muck it up, they give you another bash at it in another competition.
Cut throat European football is. If you are willing to wait …
I can’t help notice the speculation that Rangers manager Ally McCoist could be interested in bringing Queen of the South’s prolific striker Nicky Clark to Ibrox in the summer. Neither can I help notice one broadcaster, quick to make the association between the current Rangers boss and Clark’s father Sandy, who, apparently, former a successful partnership with McCoist at Rangers during the 80’s. That will be the duo so successful they were nicknamed ‘Alison & Sandra’ – and that was by Gers fans.
There are some things Wikipedia just don’t tell you!