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Melrose Sevens

Melrose Sevens Website

Saturday
It’s the second Saturday in April, and that means the Melrose Sevens. Saracens, the defending champions, reign supreme again, but only just as they see off a gutsy challenge from French outfit Clermont Auvergne.SaracensLogo

Melrose remains the original, and to my mind, the best Sevens tournament there is. Yes, there might be bigger crowds, better exponents and more glamorous locations elsewhere. But where else would you have the match ball for the final delivered by a Grand National winner (Ryan Mania), or a kick-off delayed because Little Bo Peep and was rounding up her sheep, or a call from the crowd of ‘Aye, yir mother tackles better.’

Sevens is a world-wide game now, included in the Commonwealth Games, and the Olympic Games for 2016, as Scott Hastings must have mentioned three-dozen times in commentary, just to put himself in the frame for a trip down to Rio. As if to prove the world-wide appeal, India arrived as one of the guest sides at The Greenyards. A few years ago, China visited. India did little better, beaten 45-0 in their only appearance.

Oh, imagine the ignominy of returning home to the biggest democracy in the world with that score against your name. Nothing to do with the margin, just that it was Gala who inflicted it …

Sunday

Millwall Fans vs Police

Millwall Fans vs Police


After mayhem amongst Millwall fans at Wembley, today Newcastle United supporters kick-off against followers of Sunderland, police, polis horses, wheelie bins and anything else that gets in their way.

The ‘English Disease’ has been kept in check for years, but it bubbles and simmers under the surface and, as was proved this weekend, doesn’t take much to combust. Of course, hooliganism is a curse throughout football. Even in Scotland, despite the best efforts of some to ignore it, and divert the focus instead on to banners and songs …

Monday
Take your pick. But Scottish football was today split/divided/in meltdown/at Civil War after Ross County and St Mirren voted down the SPL proposal for league reconstruction. Without the necessary mandate, the SPL’s 12-12-18 option (unwanted, even hated amongst ordinary fans) is booted into the long grass.

SPL Logo“Putting Scottish football in jeopardy,” was how Aberdeen chairman Stewart Milne saw Ross County and St Mirren’s actions, rich from the man who when given the chance to ditch the 11-1 majority rule, didn’t act.

“Self-interest,” was how Scot Gardiner of Dundee viewed the actions of Roy MacGregor and Stewart Gilmour, rich from a man who believed he had bettered Scottish football when he took a club, 24-points worse off than the Division One champions, into the SPL to do no more than make up the numbers, and then sacked the manager.

“It was Rangers,” was how the eejits, conspiracy theorists and paranoid of Scottish football saw it.

What MacGregor and Gilmour did see was straight through the gossamer of league reconstruction. It was ill-conceived, flimsy, and with no guarantee of succeeding.

St Mirren LogoInteresting, that in talking up the need for change and more exciting matches, Peter Lawwell of Celtic, one of the SPL’s driving forces behind reconstruction, stated ‘nine thousand were at the Ramsdens Cup final, so too at Partick Thistle against Morton, and St Mirren also took about 17,000 to Hampden (or the Scottish Communities League Cup final).

In all three instances, Scottish Football League-organised tournaments and nothing to do with the SPL’s management or Board. That didn’t go unnoticed.

What also hadn’t gone unnoticed was the language used by one SPL chairman in particular, especially amongst some of his voting members and especially within Division One clubs, that the proposed joining for the SPL/SFL membership ‘wasn’t an amalgamation but a reverse takeover,’ and how League teams had ‘bowling club constitutions.’

He might watch who he says that to in the future. Obviously money was at the core of the upset shown by the defeated SPL members. Maybe there was a sponsor after all ready to be unveiled for the SPL, and another, separate backer, for the middle division when the 8-8-8 split came in. I say maybe, because no-one was quite sure, and those who did know were not for letting on.

Where this all ends, who knows? What is evident is that football ‘people’ are struggling to come up with plausible, workable solutions. I’ve suggested before, that Scottish football should look to someone like Ken Schofield, someone with a sporting business head, who transformed European Tour golf and English cricket, to come up with a plan, not some politician or even worse, a committee of football chairman headed by an expensive paper shuffler. Of course they won’t, because out of all of this, the last thing they want is home truths, or to be one of the turkeys compelled to vote for a merry, happy, and prosperous Christmas …

Tuesday

Susie Wolff Racing Driver

Susie Wolff
Racing Driver

Whilst I might have disputed her rights to the title ‘the fastest woman in the world’ you can but admire what Williams F1 driver Susie Wolff has achieved. However, even having the audacity to don a race suit and crash helmet appears to have been too much for one of the last remaining automotive dinosaurs, Sir Stirling Moss.

This week, Moss decided to have a pop at our Susie in his usual chauvinistic tones, stating he didn’t think women could be top race drivers because they lacked ‘mental aptitude.’ Said the man who not so long ago, showed his mental aptitude and awareness by falling down a lift shaft …

Wednesday
Margaret Thatcher is laid to rest, and not surprisingly, there is plenty of comment about her on social media, even around her connections with sport. And I don’t mean Dennis here. People flag up her opposition to British athletes going to Moscow in 1980, the rebel cricket tour to South Africa, Bradford, Heysel and how politically involved she, and her Government of the day, were around events Hillsborough.

However, given how despised she was in Scotland, for various reasons, I can’t help but point out to Tom Hall on the Scottish Football Blog that during her time in office, Scotland reached three World Cups, Dundee United reached the UEFA Cup final and the semi-finals of the European Cup, while Aberdeen won the Cup-Winners-Cup and also a semi-final in that tournament. And, we beat England at Wembley and exported Alex Ferguson, the most successful manager in history. So not all bad.

Personally, some might say bizarrely, two sporting memories stick out. One was the busload of Welsh rugby fans turning up in Edinburgh in 1983 with a banner in the back window proclaiming; “Keep Llanwern, Close Ravenscraig.” The other was the abuse that Airdrie ‘keeper John Martin took as a ‘scab’ during the Miners Strike, and how that continued for years thereafter. Turning people against people, communities again communities, was one of Mrs Thatcher’s biggest achievements.

rangers1-300x300Meanwhile, it emerges that Craig Whyte has sold his rights to someone wanting to make his version of events during his time at Ibrox. What form ‘Rangers: The Movie’ takes, we can’t be sure. And who should play Craig Whyte? Well, Tom Courtenay did a fantastic job as Billy Liar, but might be considered past it now. And Danny Kaye, superb as Walter Mitty, is somewhere else. No, for me, given the nature of the storyline, might I suggest Craig Whyte should be played by Paul Baxendale-Walker? Just a thought, you understand …

Thursday
And, as everyone guessed, some of us much sooner than other (like a year ago), Sir Chris Hoy retires from international cycling. As the BBC said on their website; “Sir Chris Hoy retires, assured of his place in British sporting history.” Talk about stating the obvious.

Sir Chris Hoy Retires

Sir Chris Hoy Retires

There is no doubt that Hoy is worthy of whatever title people want to pin on him; icon; legend; hero; role-model. Of course, someone of his standing can’t quit without us getting a healthy ration of my least-favourite buzzword, ‘legacy.’ And what will Hoy’s legacy be?

Well, apart from the velodrome that carries his name, probably making life doubly-difficult, if not impossible, for any Scots or British cyclist who follows in his wheel tracks. Just imagine winning five Olympic gold medals and still be rated second in the list of greats.

All sport seems dominated by this word, legacy. So, what ‘legacy’ was it that inspired Britain’s greatest Olympian to take up cycling? Was it watching the Tour de France? Was it having the often-lethal wooden Commonwealth Games track in Edinburgh to pedal around? Or was it Chris Boardman on his super Lotus-engineered bike? No. It was none of the above.

Unfortunately for the legacy merchants, Hoy’s inspiration to get a bike (as he didn’t have one to get on at the time), came from watching the film ‘ET.’ So instead of spending millions, if not billions, on attempting to guarantee a sporting legacy, really the UK and Scottish Governments should have been offering free subscriptions to Sky Movies …

Friday
‘The Weirdos’ – the annual, most irreverent sports awards in the land – are still eight months away. But already we have a contender for ‘Numptie of the Year.’ Take a bow Gillian Renwick, SNP Councillor for Lenzie & Kirkintilloch South in East Dunbartonshire.

Cllr Gillian Renwick SNP

Cllr Gillian Renwick SNP

While people were still digesting Hoy’s retirement, she was using Twitter to ask the question; “Is it controversial to say we should rename the Glasgow Veladrome? The aim was for him to be there – did he get a great TV or s’ship deal?” Later, she tried to correct her earlier faux pas by saying; “Sir Chris Hoy is a legend – that’s my opinion and he will always carry the flag for Scotland & Britain.” Will that be the same Britain? No, I won’t ask the question of state the obvious.

However, to my mind, no-one would have asked that question unless they were looking for answers in the affirmative? I hope she realises she’s done her chances of ever being Sports Minister untold damage, while given her spelling of velodrome, Education Minister is probably another office she won’t see!

Cricketers or condoms? <em>Picture: AkashSiinha</em>

Cricketers or condoms? Picture: AkashSiinha

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
A busy day, with two sporting institutions taking centre stage, namely the Grand National from Aintree and the Melrose Sevens – the latter won by the host club, admirably led by Scott “Scarface” Wight.

But it was the previous evening’s viewing which started my week. STV’s The Football Years has been an excellent series, picking out the highlights – and lowlights – from the past few decades. Last week focused on the exploits of Rangers during their treble-winning season and unbeaten European run of 1992/93.

The vintage footage has brought back many memories, of how good some footballers and teams were, and how bad the fashion sense of others.

You would be hard pushed to find any criticism of this series, although some of the journalists who have appeared as talking heads were at best adjacent to the action rather than close.

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That aside, as any editor will tell you, the difficulty with things like this is what you leave out.

Friday’s programme recalled the best Rangers side I’ve seen, which – apart from a sprinkling of “foreigners” such as Hateley, Huistra, Steven, “Disco” Dale and “Miko” or “Chenks” (but seldom Mikhailitchenko with a “t”) – was a Scotland XI better than the Scotland team of the day.

But from the story of that season, there was a minor detail overlooked that I picked up on – namely that Rangers clinched the treble minus future Gers boss Ally McCoist, who had broken his leg in Lisbon having scored a mere 49 goals up to that point.

While much was made about Rangers proving themselves in Europe, the importance of being the best domestically was never, ever, overlooked by the members of that team.

Having won the second dog-fight and with it the “Battle of Britain” against Leeds United, captain Richard Gough held court within Elland Road.

My erstwhile colleague from the Daily Mirror, Harry Harris, who knew Goughie from his Spurs days, tried to press the point that the Leeds encounter was surely the biggest club match the Rangers captain had ever played in.

“Aye, but we’ve got a bigger one on Saturday,” replied Gough.

“But you’ve just beaten the champions of England,” said Harris. “How can Saturday be a bigger game than that?”

“Because,” said Gough, “we play Celtic on Saturday. And if they beat us, they’ll be telling everyone they’re British champions.”

Of course few, if any, of the assembled English press penned that line. Either they didn’t see the significance, or did they just see being best in Glasgow as small-mindedness?

Sunday
Something that was noticeable on Friday night’s offering was just how passionate Walter Smith was as the relatively-new Rangers boss, struggling at times to contain himself, particularly when his side scored a crucial goal.

Compare that to Sunday’s goal by Niki Jelavic against Hamilton Accies, when the soon-to-be-retired Smith failed to connect with an attempted high-five with assistant coach Kenny McDowall.

The co-ordination and teamwork just wasn’t there. Maybe Wattie is standing down before the celebrations become as embarrassing as Sir Alex Ferguson’s daddy-dancing…

Monday
In cricketing terminology, OD stands for One Day, as in the limited-over form of the game. However, you can’t help thinking it might also stand for overdose, something even the most avid follower of the game must be experiencing by now.

Those who think that the Chennai Super Kings or Rajasthan Royals are £6.80 for a pack of 20, or that Deccan Chargers only work for alkaline batteries, or that Kolkata Knight Riders are condoms, won’t know what the IPL is.

But a week after a world cup that took a month and more to complete, we are straight into the Indian Premier League, the live and hitting version of fantasy Twenty20, where the best players in the world become little more than hired assassins.

ITV4 – fast becoming the nation’s leading digital (or is it terrestrial?) sports channel – are showing the action live, which is colourful and fast and should be watchable and entertaining.

But much as I love the game, even I’m feeling a bit jaded by it all. Overkill is taking away from the spectacle. It’s almost like the sequel to a movie which you saw just a year ago, only with more colourful pyjamas.

Still, it beats re-runs of The Fall Guy – but not of The Sweeney.

If the IPL isn’t enough, Australia beat Bangladesh, taking the series after a nine-wicket win with Shane Watson clattering 185 (out of a total of 232) from just 96 balls, including 15 fours and a world-record 15 sixes. Amazing, but so what? …

Tuesday
Snooker has tried to get its act together on many fronts of late, one being how authorities handle illness.

Ding Junhui was fined £2,000 by the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association after failing to report that he was suffering from illness before losing 4–0 to countryman Liang Wenbo in their Euro Players Tour Championship match in Germany.

Officials reported Ding, who was fined for turning up “in circumstances where he may otherwise have properly withdrawn,” and where he was unable to “compete properly, which not only impacts on his reputation but also that of the sport.” Heavy stuff, and changed days indeed.

Remember, this was the sport which over the years had people like Alex Higgins, Quinten Hann and Mark Williams hopping and hobbling around the table because of various leg injuries.

We had at least one player made out to be a drug cheat because he loaded himself up with Night Nurse Cold & Flu, all because withdrawing from an event just wasn’t an option.

On another occasion, the aforementioned Williams was forced to play in somewhat difficult circumstances that only became evident when he stretched for a long pot. Without warning the public or the referee, he dropped his cue and bolted from the arena.

“I bent over and had two options – go for the shot or go for a shit,” was the bold Welshman’s graphic explanation into the nature of his illness. And before you ask, no, he wasn’t on the brown…

Just days away from the Betfred.com “Embassy” World Championship (as someone referred to it recently), and Ronnie O’Sullivan’s participation in the event is called in to question.

I am not one to make light of people’s problems, particularly around issues like depression which have beset Graeme Dott and Mark Allen of late, and O’Sullivan for some time.

Cruelly referred to as “The Two Ronnies” (because no one is ever sure which one is going to turn up), the three-times world champion – arguably the most gifted player the game has ever seen – would receive more sympathy and understanding if he didn’t threaten to retire every time he’s interviewed.

O’Sullivan has sought help from leading sports psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters, the “mind guru” (as the Daily Mail called him) who helped the Great Britain cycling team win eight gold medals in Beijing in 2008.

Fitting perhaps, because you get the feeling one of them will be on their bike soon…

Wednesday
Don’t say we weren’t warned, but FIFA’s latest world ranking list shows Scotland tumbling 16 places down from 50th to 66th.

Playing (and losing) to Brazil doesn’t seem such a good idea now that we’ve lost our place amongst the third tier of European seeds.

Since they were first published in 1993, I have followed these rankings with amusement more than anything, laughing as we are overtaken by some nations which were not even nations when the list first appeared.

It also helps to ease the pain if you read this chart, pop-pickers, in the manner of Alan “Fluff” Freeman (this might help, “Not arf!”) or Tony Blackburn.

Among this month’s big movers – and reaching their highest-ever standing – are Montenegro, zooming in at 24 (although their most famous son Hugo was “Top of the Pops” once). Albania – yes the country which had Norman Wisdom as its cultural hero – are at 50, and Rock-ing The Casbah at 58 is Libya.

Libya!

A war-torn country ripped apart by civil rebellion and the kind of international assistance you can do without is now higher than this nation which could rightly lay claim to having given organised football to the world. Pathetic.

Of course, it is all too easy to draw comparisons between those who preside over the SFA and Libya.

One has a president who rules with a fist of iron, who has seen off those who would challenge from within, will crush insubordination by unleashing the power of his office against them, who has scant regard for state or international law, and who obviously cares little about his or his nation’s standing in the world.

And the other is led by Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi…

Thursday
And it emerges that the SFA bosses are considering legal action against Paul McBride QC after his allegations that they were “biased” towards Rangers and against his client, Celtic manager Neil Lennon.

SFA chief executive Stewart Regan said: “We are now considering, with the benefit of legal advice, whether to sue just Paul McBride for damages or whether to also sue other parties.

“In making his unjustified and inflammatory remarks, Paul McBride appears to be acting as a self-publicist and not as a QC. His wild and inaccurate statements are defamatory and appear to be malicious.”

Where oh where is this all this bickering and paranoia going to end?

Hopefully in the High Court, with the SFA represented by Donald Findlay QC…

Friday
And Bolton Wanderers are but days away from an FA Cup semi-final with Stoke City. How well have Owen Coyle and sidekick Sandy Stewart done at the Reebok?

Another great advertisement for Scottish managers making their mark in England – or should that be Scots-born managers, given that Owen Coyle is Irish, by dint of his parentage and his one cap against Holland? Enough genealogy, though.

I first got to know Owen when he was at Clydebank before his £175,000 move to Airdrie. Yes, Airdrie had that kind of money in 1990, and got a debut hat-trick as part of the repayment.

He was still living with his parents then, and on one occasion I had cause to call the family home looking for him.

“Is Owen there?” I asked, to which Mrs Coyle replied: “What one do you want? Auld Oweny, young Oweny or onie Oweny…?”

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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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