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Africa Cup of Nations

Saturday
The Africa Cup of Nations kicks-off in South Africa accompanied by the usual fanfare of vuvuzelas, sufficiently loud and annoying for many a journalist to make a justified claim for industrial deafness. We can’t complain too much of course, thankful that there is a tournament at all given that the event had been awarded to Libya before their internal strife.

ITV4 made plenty of the fact they would be covering the tournament, a series of slick adverts and trailers whetting the appetite to see many of Europe’s, and the English Premier League’s finest, wearing different kit.

In what is extensively a tinder-dry continent, there were opening day pyrotechnics. Hosts South Africa drew 0-0 with Cape Verde Islands (obviously still traumatised at having been overtaken in the FIFA World Rankings by Scotland), with Angola and Morocco also drawing a blank.

Whether it was teams being cancelled out tactically, or a fear of national pride being damaged, this wasn’t the start the Africa Cup of Nations wanted.

Still, it would only take a day of so for some individuals to make their mark, none more so than Jemal Tassew, the Ethiopian goalkeeper. Herald ‘Toni’ Schumacher would have been proud of you son.

Sunday
There is barely a play passes in the NFL without some statistical fact being thrown up to the extent you wonder if this sport was invented for cowards who couldn’t play rugby or mathematicians.

Sorry, that’s a cheap shot. I greatly admire the greats of gridiron, of which there are many, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady being one of them. On Sunday night, he and his team looked to be headed back to the Superbowl. Leading 13-7 against Baltimore Ravens, Brady had never lost from that position with the Patriots — he was 67-0 in such situations. But if records are made to be broken so stats are there to be trashed. The Ravens’ ‘bouncebackability’ saw them score 21 unanswered points, and set up a meeting with the San Francisco 49ers in XLVIII.

Leaving the Patriots, and Brady, disappointed and him 67-1 when leading at half-time. I bet he remembers that one more than the other 67 combined …

Monday
Remember the good old days when a mobile phone was just for making calls? Now with cameras, voice recorders and more, they are handheld media hubs. Still, they do have a tendency to ring when not on the right setting, and you never know who then might pick them up.

You might have seen this – but I think Michael Grant of The Herald is deserving of 1,000,000 YouTube views. After all these years in newspaper journalism, who’d have thought his biggest audience would be online …

Tuesday
It’s the morning after Willie Limond took just 116-second to hammer Eddie Doyle to win the vacant Commonwealth light-welterweight title in Glasgow, a fitting performance to mark the St Andrew’s Sporting Club’s 40th anniversary.

In advance of the contest, the Press Association’s Ronnie Esplin had been discussing late-night starts to title fights, and I broached the subject of very early starts – like 3am in the morning.

That was the start time back in November, 1980 when Jim Watt – who opened the St Andrew’s with a British title contest against fellow Scot and former world champion Ken Buchanan – made his own defence of the world crown against the American Sean ‘The Bubblegum Kid’ O’Grady.

I reminisced on Twitter with one or two about that night/day, because 12 hours later there was an Old Firm game in Glasgow, Rangers beating Celtic 3-0 with Colin McAdam scoring twice. Like a different world. I also promised to expand on a tale from that day, November 1st.

A sadly departed friend of mine, Tom Kennedy, or better known around Wishaw and parts as ‘The Blooter’ had attended the fancy dress Halloween Party at a local club, the plan being to get changed, then head into the Kelvin Hall for the Watt fight. Things didn’t go plan, so Tam and his mate jumped into a taxi and headed for the toon, Blooter dressed as a US cavalry officer, his mate ‘Curwood’ as an Apache Indian. Needless to say, once at the Kelvin Hall their regalia caused much hilarity, but completely endeared them to O’Grady’s sister in the crowd who they were sitting near.

She just loved how these guys had come dressed up to support the American challenger, and better still, “it’s great you guys are Irish.” Of course, they were not. But as their South Lanarkshire accents had become even broader when mixed with vodka and coke, it was an easy mistake to make.

Things were progressing beautifully (even amorously) with Scots-Irish-American relations until the 10th round when a clash of heads split O’Grady from nose to hairline. The cry of instruction from Blooter to the Scots champion, to “knock the Yanks head off” soured the blossoming romance between the Indian chief and O’Grady’s now manic sister. With O’Grady’s face masked in blood, the ref stopped the contest. Now even offers of a peace pipe, a powwow and a chance to visit the 2-bedroom wigwam in Netherton could win the sister around.

A liquid breakfast was sources and Blooter and Curwood made plans to head back home, change, and then head to Ibrox. But you know how it is. A roll and sausage and seven vodkas knocked their timings out, so they headed to Govan, still dressed like something out of She Wore A Yellow Ribbon.

Eventually, they did head home, having attended two major sporting events, dressed up as extras from the Wild West – only to be denied access to their local hostelry, not because they were inebriated, but because ‘you look effing stupid.’

Indeed. They have high standards in Wishaw …

Wednesday
There are many things these days that qualify for the ‘only in Britain’ label. And the decision to make Toni Minichiello redundant from his full-time job with UK Athletics has to be one of them. For the uninitiated, Minichiello was named UK Coach of the Year in 2012 after guiding Jessica Ennis to heptathlon gold at the London Olympics.

Minichiello is a victim of the controversial overhaul of UK Athletics’ high-performance programme, which now centres around Loughborough. He won’t move Ennis, or himself from their Sheffield base, and as he coaches just one medallist – who happens to be the poster girl of British sport – Minichiello falls outside the funding criteria.

Only the bureaucrats of sport can believe they have got their new vision and view right for the future, despite having got it so wrong in the past. Only in Britain …

Thursday
I make a guest appearance alongside Clyde boss Jim Duffy on STV’s Scotland Tonight, talking about ‘Ballboy-gate.’ You can always measure the size and importance of a story on whether or not it becomes a ‘Gate.’

Opinion, in football and amongst the public, is split right down the middle on this one. For me Eden Hazard will always be wrong for kicking Charlie Morgan, the 17-year-old ballboy, though his premeditated time wasting stunt exposed him as a less-than innocent party. Charlie does come across as the kind of kid who will revel in now having more than 100,000 followers on Twitter.

And as the kind of kid who will be oblivious to how many of those might be Chelsea fans. Enjoy the stardom …

Friday
Andy Murray faces Roger Federer in the semi-finals at the Australian Open, and beats him to set up a final against Novak Djokovic.

A year ago, reaching the final was a significant achievement for the Scot. It still is. But to now hear the phrase ‘back-to-back majors’ alongside his name is a measure of where he is in the sporting world.

Here’s hoping …

Sportacus – or Francesco Totti? <em>Picture: Daniel C Griliopoulos</em>

Sportacus – or Francesco Totti? Picture: Daniel C Griliopoulos

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
And the Six Nations draws to a close with the usual amount of cheers and tears. Scotland beat Italy to avoid the wooden spoon – or, given the close relationship between the two nations, maybe it should have been the ice cream scoop.

But the big event saw England fall at the final hurdle to the Irish, so missing out on a Grand Slam. I mean, they only had to turn up to win, such was the 1990-like pre-match hype. That result meant that Wales had a chance of taking the championship, if they beat France by 28 points.

Who the hell started heaping such expectation on Wales in advance of the match in Paris?

Regardless, it was ill-founded, with the French running out easy winners – so handing, if you have been following things, the title to England. They received the series trophy, not in front of 70,000 spectators at the Aviva Stadium, but witnessed by just a few cameras and photographers in a Dublin Hotel.

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An anti-climax, or what? England had few complaints, despite their rally after the break, soundly beaten 24–8 by an Irish side which had led 17–3 at half-time.

“We won the first half, but England won the second half,” said Irish captain Brian O’Driscoll.

Wait a minute. 17–3 at the turnaround, 24–8 at no-side. Surely Ireland won the second half 7–5?

Poor arithmetic, Brian. Or do you have ambitions to be a future Irish finance minister?

Sunday
Rangers beat Celtic 2–1 to take the Scottish League Cup. But that’s not the football highlight of the weekend.

Fiorentina and Roma playing out a 2–2 draw is hardly a scoreline to set pulses racing. But in scoring two goals for Roma, Francesco Totti (who has more than a passing resemblance to Sportacus from Lazy Town, minus the moustache) reached the landmark tally of 200 goals in Serie A.

To put that in to context, Serie A is more than a century old. But Totti is only the sixth player to reach that elusive mark. Giuseppe Meazza and Silvio Piola from the 1930s, and Gunnar Nordahl and José Altafini from the 50s and 60s, had their double-hundred before Roberto Baggio (the unthinking man’s Stevie Fulton) arrived, some 33 years after Altafini.

A decade on, and Totti has emulated their feat. But at the age of 34, he might not add too many more to his collection and certainly doesn’t have a hope of catching Piola’s all-time high of 274.

Of those still playing in Italy’s top flight, only Alessandro Del Piero is close to becoming the seventh member of this exclusive club.

Indeed, it’s not so much a case of marvelling at who has netted 200 goals in Serie A, as recognising the famous names who didn’t even come close: Gabriel Batistuta on 184, Luigi Riva and Roberto Mancini each with 156, while on 142 is Christian Vieri, who does not make tellies for Panasonic…

But returning to the League Cup, do you realise petrol was only 88p a litre when Celtic last won a trophy? Yes, that long…

Monday
It would have been easy to miss it. But the draw for the Betfred World Snooker Championship took place on Monday, where 16 seeds were matched with 16 qualifiers to decide the first round proper at the Crucible.

There was a bit more razzmatazz about the draw, as there is with most things concerning Barry Hearn. No more the draw being held on the radio (which ended in a cock-up when the same player was drawn against two different opponents), or in secret, as it was a few years ago, the outcome held over for a day before being announced. Did I hear the word “fix”?

But even Monday’s event was a pale and poor imitation of what was once the norm, when the draw took place at peak-viewing time on a Saturday afternoon as a main feature on Grandstand. Snooker may still be as popular, but it just doesn’t feature as near the front of the Beeb’s sportfolio…

Tuesday
No sooner had Rangers placed the Co-operative Insurance Cup in their trophy cabinet, than they heard they would be defending the Scottish Communities League Cup next season.

There probably has never been such an extreme switch in where sponsorship cash has been sourced. From the Co-op – mutual, benevolent, social and community based – to the £1 million promised by Scottish government from pimping, fraud and drugs.

Sorry. It doesn’t come directly from the Scottish government’s activities in pimping, money laundering and the likes. The investment actually comes from cash seized from criminals, through the Proceeds of Crime Act.

The Proceeds of Crime Cup? Now that would get you recognised. I hear the Colombian authorities are looking at having a Cocaine Bowl next season.

And just a thought. After all the brouhaha of the Old Firm game at Parkhead a few weeks ago, could there be a chance in the future where troublesome managers and players – already threatened by authorities and polis alike – might end up as unsuspecting sponsors of a cup competition their teams are entered in?

Wednesday
And Elizabeth Taylor dies. Many mourn her passing. I just reflect on the small fortune she probably cost me over the years.

See, because of her, I fell for the likes of Charlotte Brew, Jenny Hembrow, Linda Sheedy, Geraldine Rees, Joy Carrier, Valerie Alder, Jacqui Oliver, Gee Armytage, Venetia Williams, Penny Ffitch-Heyes, Tarnya Davies and Rosemary Henderson. Not in the way you would “fall” for a movie star.

No. I thought that at least one of them would follow Liz and win the Grand National, just as she did on Pie, by Two Get One Free out of The Local Bakery (that’s not an offer to look out for on your next shopping trip, but the sire and dam), in the 1944 film National Velvet.

So muggins here always thought that the dream world of the big screen might just become reality. Much to the delight of my local bookie.

Ach, he’s not bad really. If I stick twenty quid on them, he does give me 500/1 every year on Kilnockie winning the Scottish Cup.

Thursday
Talking about Hollywood, that thingy called YouTube (or YouYaTube, as the rival Glesca derivative is known) makes stars out of ordinary folk. Just film it, edit and stick it up, and before very long there you are, entertaining people you have never been formally introduced to, who are laughing at your expense.

This blockbuster was sent to me the other day. No animals were harmed in the making of this video. However, the same cannot be said for pies and pints.

Judge for yourself, and please tell me a) if Voiceover Man from The X Factor has anything to worry about, b) if this is not the best hand-off you’ve ever seen and c) do people’s arses look bigger on screen?

PS – Should anyone take exception to this offering, my name is Roddy fae Selkirk…

Friday
I suspect like a great many, I get confused over who can play for who at international level. It’s now become the norm that you can play for anyone, even if you have represented a different country at an under-age level.

Take Victor Moses, sold to Wigan a few years ago as cash-strapped Crystal Palace hawked off any talent they had. Despite playing for England at under-17, under-19 and under-21 level, Moses might play for Nigeria against Ethiopia in the Africa Cup of Nations – which, apart from the word “of”, is ostensibly the same as the old African Nations Cup.

Moses was born in Kaduna, Nigeria, but has dual nationality. He may, quite possibly, have triple nationality. But Ireland are not sure whether they have a claim because of the similarity between national flags.

Anyway, the FIFA police are not happy because protocols and paperwork haven’t been completed, making Moses ineligible, or at least until someone finds a pen.

But hang on. Could Scotland have a claim? I mean, we had Jordan. And Moses would have been nothing without Joe…

Surely Moses is a British or UK passport holder. I’m sure someone at Wigan could have a word with him. Maybe James McCarthy for instance. Oh, maybe not the best choice there.

Of course, Nigeria have bigger problems. Goalkeeper Victor Enyeama has been ruled out of the game because of an ankle injury, and sadly not because he’d accidentally been stuck up someone’s arse…

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by Stuart Crawford

<em>Picture: CLF</em>

Picture: CLF

Well, how was it for you? Were you sitting in Stetson and cowboy boots, draped in the Stars and Stripes, with Budweiser in hand when England took to the field against the USA? Did you feel anguished when Gerrard’s goal went in after four minutes, and did you rejoice when Robert Green’s howler let the USA off the hook? Were you line dancing in the street at the final whistle?

Or, like me, were you disappointed, but not really surprised, by the whole spectacle? After all the hype and jingoism from the English media, the actual performance on the pitch from their team reminded me of a damp penny banger on Bonfire night. This was the team, we were told, which was good enough to bring the Jules Rimet trophy back to England. If Saturday was anything to go by, they have about as much chance of doing that as Partick Thistle has of winning the SPL.

Where was the wunderkind Rooney, he who was destined (by the media) to carry his team to glory? Much huffing and puffing from one of England’s only true stars came to nothing.

Gerrard was strong, and resourceful, and brave as usual, but apart from his early goal was lost in the sea of English mediocrity. And Joe Cole, the one individual who could possibly have turned the tide, didn’t even make it on to the field.

Instead we had the clearly unfit Milner replaced by Wright-Phillips, who lost the ball every time he tried to weave his way past the USA defenders. Then we had Ledley King, a man with chronic injury problems well documented before the squad was even selected, replaced at half time because he was, yes, wait for it, injured. Crouch – when he got on – harrumphed and galumphed to little avail. And when Heskey looked certain to score he hit the ball straight at Tim Howard, the US goalkeeper, who probably said “thank you very much”.

Let’s be honest here. It wasn’t Robert Green’s excruciating mistake that caused England to draw with the USA. It was their inability to score again.

Aside from England’s stuttering performance, much credit should also go to the US team. Written off as underdogs in a Group labelled “easy” by most of the commentariat, the Americans produced a mature and disciplined display which suggests, if it hasn’t happened already, that they are ready to join the big boys on the world football stage.

Yes, they may call it soccer and their coach talks about “plays” as in American football, but they more or less matched England throughout and are clearly no pushover. Little wonder the front page of the New York Post carried the headline “USA Wins 1-1”. Rest of the world take note.

Elsewhere in the opening matches in South Africa it was almost all similar stale fare. The French looked useful but with no sting in the tale. Slovenia against Algeria was a tame affair. South Korea overpowered a shockingly poor Greece side. Ghana overcame an underperforming Serbian side in a tie that took some time to come to life. Only Argentina and Germany delighted the senses.

Although only beating Nigeria by one goal, the Argentines showed that there is much more in the locker to come. Messi shone, seemingly dribbling past numerous Nigerian defenders only to crash against the rock that was Nigerian goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama. He was magnificent. Without him it would have been 4 or 5- 0.

But it was Germany that caught the eye. Their demolition of the Australians – assisted, it must be admitted, by the dismissal of the Australian talisman, Tim Cahill, for a rash challenge early in the second half – was a joy to behold.

The Germans played the sort of fast flowing, incisive game that lit up the competition. Dismissed by much of the (English) media yet again before the event, they showed themselves to be true contenders. If you think the Scots attitude to England’s success is reprehensible, it is as nothing compared to the English dislike for all things to do with Germany’s football team.

Of course England will get better, and it would be a real shock if they didn’t progress from the group stage into the knockout phase. The other two teams in the group, Algeria and Slovenia, look eminently beatable even with England playing below par.

Interestingly, though, their fate may now rest with the USA. Should the USA also beat Algeria and Slovenia, and do so with a better goal total than England, then our southern cousins may only come second in the group. If Germany tops its group, then the two old foes will clash early in the knockout stage. On current performance there can be only one result. Early bath time for England.

There is much water to flow under the bridge before then in what is shaping up to be an interesting competition. But England’s assumed progression to at least the quarter finals no longer applies, if indeed it ever did. And we still have to see Brazil and Spain play!