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Swann (n): 1. A Royal bird 2. A Regal bowler.

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I had expected to receive news of Graeme Swann’s retirement from International cricket sometime in the near future but had always anticipated that when he did call time on his England career, it would be like the spectacular ending to some movie premiere. Having performed countless death-defying stunts and saved the world from total devastation, he should slowly have drifted off into the faintly humming sunset, the ground on which he walked, glistening with gold. The reality of the situation could hardly be more different. Part of a miserable England Ashes tour of Australia and rumoured to have been omitted from the squad for the MCG test beginning on Boxing Day, the Nottinghamshire bowler has chosen to pack his bags and retire with immediate effect from all forms of cricket.

The purpose of this piece is not to speculate about the reasoning behind Swann’s decision, to formulate an opinion on whether he was within his rights to walk away before the tour reached its conclusion, but to congratulate him on excellent county and international careers. It took its time in coming. Until his move to Nottinghamshire in 2005, Swann aged 26 at the time, had done little to capture the imagination bar a single ODI appearance just after the turn of the Millennium. Sure, he had been a consistent performer for a team playing in the second tier but thoughts of another England call-up were a fading hope. Most would have thought that ship had long passed; indeed it had barely ever docked in the first place. Nottinghamshire were imperious in the 4 day game at the time of his arrival and clinched the 2005 Frizzell County Championship honours. As such, Swann’s main duties were to entertain the Trent Bridge crowd in the 45 over game – a competition that is no more. Under Stephen Fleming’s leadership, Notts employed Swann as an opening batsman, pinpointing him as a pinch-hitting player capable of getting the innings off to a flyer. In principle it was a cunning plan that they persevered with, but one which usually backfired to leave the Outlaws 2, 6 or 8-1. His frequent wild heaves across the line of the ball would pain every youth coach in the game! Having exchanged his bruising bat for the more familiar ball in the second innings, Swann immediately began to enjoy more success. Boasting 305 wickets in 269 appearances in the shorter forms of the game, his right arm orthodox was proving tricky to manoeuvre around. Never afraid to give the ball plenty of flight, the wily spinner was a constant menace and began to catch the eye. In addition to his bowling credentials, he was rarely spotted without his mischievous grin, a smirk capable of unnerving the coolest of customers. 2007 was to be his breakthrough campaign in the 4 day format though, a productive season that saw him snare 43 victims and earn a flight on the England plane to Sri Lanka. Although he was unused on the tour and played second-fiddle to Monty Panesar, he would soon exchange places with the charismatic slow left armer. Swann’s golden age began against India the following year when he became only the second player in the history of Test cricket to claim two wickets in his very first over. Rahul Dravid was one of those sent packing and from then on, no “wall” was reinforced adequately to prevent Swann from knocking it down. We all know the story from there: part of an Ashes victory (2009), earned a tied man of the series award in South Africa (2009), considered to be the world’s number 3 bowler (2010), pronounced ECB cricketer of the year (2010), involved in the demolition job of Pakistan (2010), T20 World Cup winner (2010), integral in another Ashes win (2010-11), gained the title of world’s number 1 spinner (2010-11), ranked the 2nd best Test match bowler (2011), became the world’s number 1 ODI bowler (2011), part of an England world number 1 squad (2011).

If Swanny should ever lay his eyes on this article, I hope to have fed his ego with this inexhaustible list of achievements. Even the methodical hand-picking of words seems insufficient to describe such a phenomenal rise in a career that for long periods had looked highly improbable. The elbow problem sustained in 2012 meant that England’s ‘go to’ man failed to ever hit the same lofty heights again and has ultimately led to the most difficult career decision. Take a look at the following video to hear his version of events.

So there we have it. Graeme Swann: Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire and England. The unlikely man who rose to take the world by storm. The England selectors will now be forced to mull over who his successor should be. Will it be the ever-reliable James Tredwell? Alternatively it may be the young Northern sensation, Scott Borthwick. Simon Kerrigan and Moeen Ali won’t want to be discounted either. However, all that for another day. For now, let’s raise a toast and say: “Swanny, thanks for the memories”.

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Guest Blog Entry: “The stress professional sportspeople are under should not be taken lightly, and Jonathan Trott should be applauded for his bravery and openness.”

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Written by Josh Keeling

I’d never exhibited so much mental focus and control in my life. The date was September 20th 2013. The venue was Sutton Lawn, Nottinghamshire, UK. The activity? Sport. Tennis. Just an amateur tennis match between myself and a friend. Yet, having never won a set before, despite well over fifty matches over the course of two summers, I went into a state of mental focus I’ve never achieved before. My friend will tell you, I tend to talk during our matches. A lot. Yet on that day, having lost the first set 6-1, I decided enough was enough. It was time to shut up. Time to focus. Time to take one point at a time. Having done so, I was able to get to- and lose- a second set tiebreak before winning the third set 6-3.

This all came back to me when I was considering the recent case of Jonathan Trott and his withdrawal from the England squad for the Ashes tour of Australia. It took a huge amount of mental toughness for me to isolate myself from any dissenting voices or fears in the midst of a simple tennis match with a friend, to ignore the implications of a misplaced shot and move on. I have honestly never been so mentally focused on an amateur tennis encounter before. It was a real mental effort to ignore a bad shot, a lost point, to forget about the potential implications for the match, to clear my mind and just focus on the next swing of my racket in isolation from everything else. It was only after, when I relaxed mentally, that I realised just how focused I’d been.

So, I thought, it is impossible to imagine just how much mental strain a professional sportsperson must be under. It must be at least a hundred times worse. I was playing merely for the personal satisfaction of winning a set for the first time. These men and women are staking their livelihoods, their careers, their reputations, huge sums of money and the dreams of millions every time they step onto the field of play, or into a swimming pool, or onto a running track, or onto the curved banks of a velodrome.

To take the example of Jonathan Trott once again, the mental pressures of stepping out at the crease for hours at a time, watched by millions of people both in the stadium and at home, your every move having an influence on the ultimate destination of the biggest prizes in sport, must place an incredible strain on the human mind. People sit at home, watching Trott and his counterparts lose their wickets in supposedly ridiculous ways, and they scream ‘What a stupid shot! What was he thinking?!’.

The fact of the matter is, these decisions are taken in a split second under the most intolerable pressure. They don’t get hundreds of replays and hours of analysis. They get a split second. That’s it. A split second to make or destroy the dreams of millions. Could you handle that pressure?

I found it tough to maintain such a high degree of intense focus- a level of focus I don’t normally attain- playing sport in the most relaxed environment possible. Imagine the huge strain these professionals are under, in the toughest conditions possible. Imagine having your every move ripped to shreds. Forget the silly argument that because they are paid well, they should just ‘put up with it’. They are merely people like you and I, vulnerable to the same insecurities, the same worries and stresses and strains. Think about that when you watch professional sport and then think about perhaps showing a level of consideration for the people in front of you.

Stress-related illnesses in sport should not be taken lightly, and it takes much more bravery to openly admit that you need a break than it does to sit in the stands with some warped sense of entitlement, issuing a stream of vitriol and abuse. They are people, not immune to insecurities, and it’s important to remember that next time you take your seat in the stands. Show some respect, and maybe sportspeople will open up and connect with their fans more. It works both ways. For now, Jonathan Trott should be applauded for his bravery, and let us hope that more sportspeople are not suffering in the same way.

For more of Josh’s work, check out his blog at http://justfroingitoutthere.wordpress.com.

5 REASONS TO NOT BE A DESPAIRING ENGLAND FOOTBALL FAN AFTER CHILE DEFEAT

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International friendlies always throw up a few shock results. However, England’s 2-0 defeat to Chile at a packed Wembley stadium should come as less of a surprise. The South American nation have crept up the FIFA rankings to a lofty 12th position and will be a force to be reckoned with at the 2014 World Cup. This however, is not one of the five reasons that England fans should not despair.

The following on the other hand, are.

1) Lallana is Brazilian.

Of course, it would be an area of concern if Adam Lallana did have Brazilian citizenship. Thankfully I have used a metaphor when a simile would have been more appropriate. One of three debutantes, Lallana was the most impressive as he demonstrated a mesmerizing fleet-footedness that, at times, Rivaldo would have been proud of. Where Southampton team-mate, Jay Rodriguez was panicked and hurried, Lallana looked at complete ease while wearing the prestigious number 9 shirt. He could, and perhaps should, have marked his England bow with a goal at the end of the first period. After neat link-up play with Rooney, he could only drag his effort wide via a deflection having delayed shooting for a fraction too long. Still, his industry and intelligence are likely to have moved him up in the pecking order for a midfield place.

2) Wayne Rooney is a changed man.

Over the summer months, there was an incredible amount of speculation linking Rooney with a move away from Old Trafford. It was said that it would be near impossible for him to rebuild a fractured working relationship with David Moyes, who had succeeded Sir Alex Ferguson at United. How wrong the press can be. The forward has begun the 2013/14 season with a ravenous appetite, hounding defenders to pick their pockets like Oliver Twist. He was instrumental in the Red Devils’ crunch victory over Arsenal and looked equally determined in an England shirt yesterday evening. Playing as a lone striker was always going to be a difficult task but was accomplished on the ball and regularly looked to play the ball through to midfield runners. He’s certainly returning to form.

3) One loss since the turn of the year.

It may be mid-November but yesterday marked the first time that England have succumbed to defeat this calendar year (and it wasn’t even a competitive match at that!) Yes okay, so we have lined up against the fearsome outfit of San Marino, whose population fails to exceed the capacity of most Premier League stadiums. Likewise, we have survived scares against both the Irish and the Scots, but it would be unfair to overlook a victory and a draw against next year’s World Cup hosts. It is pleasing to know that without playing the most swashbuckling soccer, England have been effective at grinding results out. Through both injury troubles and selection policy, the squad has had little time to settle and the results are testament to the character shown.

4) The right-back slot is sorted.

Glen Johnson played the full ninety minutes and confirmed exactly why Kyle Walker will start ahead of him in seven months time. In truth, the intelligent movement of the Chilean attacking line caused problems for all of England’s defenders, yet Johnson’s performance was spectacularly sub-standard. Leighton Baines has been rightly pulled up for allowing Alexis Sanchez to head home the opener, but the Evertonian was not alone in fault. After Wigan winger, Jean Beausejour collected possession, Johnson allowed him to pass the ball out wide. Liverpool’s full-back was then slow to close to cross down and the rest is history. Additionally, the lively Sanchez and Vargas frequently found space on England’s right flank when countering in the first-half and the former-Portsmouth star simply didn’t have the recovery speed to answer. Just when you thought that Johnson’s evening couldn’t get much worse, he was conspicuous by his absence in the other Chilean goal. Pushing for an equaliser, Johnson was caught up the field and as Sanchez coolly lobbed Forster, he can be seen ambling back some 30 yards from goal.

5) We’re better than the French.

Haunted by the tactical deficiencies that cost Harold Godwinson in 1066, English fans still derive great pleasure when our near neighbours are in stuttering footballing form. And that they are, currently embroiled in a real scrap to qualify for Brazil. As St George’s flags hung loosely around supporters’ waists yesterday evening, news that the French were on the receiving end of the same humbling score-line, soon meant that red and white was being brandished across London once again. Further satisfaction was gleaned from their opponents being Ukraine, the nation who England narrowly finished above in Group H – we don’t mention the bore draw played out in Kiev last September.

So there we have it, five reasons to not despair as an England football fan after defeat by Chile. Admittedly, some of the points may not instil much optimism either, but it’s worth remembering from time to time, that England are going to Brazil.

Tigers Tie in with Prince’s Trust

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It is common knowledge that countless young people are struggling to find employment in Britain, today. It is unsurprising to learn that many become quickly disheartened and believe that their efforts are futile. On occasion the difficulties with finding a job are paired with home pressures and can become overwhelming.

Thankfully, The Prince’s Trust have teamed up with Hull City AFC to build confidence in people aged between 14 and 30 in spectacular style. Monday 9th December marks the beginning of a week long course that will enable people with big ambitions to improve their CVs. What’s more, all the activities are unfolding inside the KC stadium meaning that avid football fans have been given an extra incentive to improve their career prospects. The event will help enhance the following skills:

  • Peer Coaching
  • FA Coaching Level 1 Badge
  • CV writing skills
  • Classroom based activities
  • First Aid

The Tigers Trust is aware that people with low self-esteem may be less inclined to get involved and consequently are offering a taster day on Thursday 5th December. Fiona Whitley, Programme Executive in the North of England, says that the introductory morning will “allow each and every person to have their needs catered for”, to establish a relationship with the those running the course. Speaking at Hull’s Creator College, Whitley stressed the importance of building “rapport” with others and subsequently boosting communicative skills. On behalf of the Prince’s Trust, she furthermore suggested that the Get Started with Football project offers people a “safe environment for people to grow and develop in”.

Hull have begun brightly on their return to the Barclays Premier League and are sitting comfortably in 12th place. Their footballing stars will be looking to instill this positivity in job seekers  at the beginning of December, and there’s reason to believe that there’s plenty of optimism on the east coast of England.

Judgeon the Time Right: Left Back Looks Forward After United Education

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The Theatre of Dreams, home of Manchester United. Unquestionably, the one club that every boy who is born with a football at his feet, hopes will come calling for his services one day. Defender, Joe Dudgeon was fortunate enough to have his request answered back in 2006 at just 16 years of age when he signed to be part of their scholarship programme.

Lifting the lid on his time at the English Defending Champions on Tuesday evening, Joe rather sheepishly admitted that he found Sir Alex Ferguson rather “intimidating”. It’s difficult to believe that he was on his own in that regard as the fearsome Scot, aside from being a master tactician, was universally renowned for his half-time hairdryer treatment.  That said “He (Fergie) had a lot of time for everyone” and Joe clearly recognizes that starting out at United has given him the perfect platform to achieve footballing lift-off. As with most things in life though, it has taken the flower buds some time to blossom and after four arduous seasons with the developmental squad and then the reserves, it was difficult to stomach when the rewards of regular first-team football were not forthcoming. It was time to look elsewhere.

“At United I was always a youngster. There were a lot of people there … you were a minority”.

Joe pops into Hull’s Creator College

Having achieved his move to a “refreshing” Hull City in 2011, the player capped 4 times by Northern Ireland at under 21 level, was looking to assert himself in a then combative championship outfit. The transition to life on the east coast was reasonably plain sailing, particularly since other United graduates had recently rocked up at the KC stadium. Despite excelling at the beginning of the 2012/13 season with nine solid performances, a devastating knee injury was lying in wait to crock the left back for the rest of the campaign. As he slowly begins a return to full fitness, the 22 year suggested that  “[a lengthy spell on the sidelines] was torture but it made you appreciate being in football”. Renewed by that sense of optimism, he is looking forward to pulling on a Hull City jersey once again and will no doubt have an eye on this season’s Boxing Day fixture. It reads: Manchester United (H).

Following the press conference, I was keen to catch up with Joe and plumb deeper into life at the top. However, the full-back also found himself quizzed about whether young, home grown players are all too frequently overlooked for first-team places.

A Solution to Destitution: Hull Journalist Helps Miracle Man ‘Saviour’ Shine in Europe

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When former Hull Daily Mail journalist, Matt Stephenson and film-maker, Alan Jones, touched down in Sierra Leone, they were expecting to be greeted with colourful culture. Freetown, Hull’s twin city, was certainly bustling with activity, but also provided them with plenty of food for thought. They soon understood that people were unsure of where the next meal meal was going to come from, unsure of when it would land on their plates. The pair, dabbling in book and film journalism during the day, craved a grander story, one which combined Freetown lifestyle with somebody’s unfulfilled dream.

It was at this point that the plan was hatched to unearth the best untapped footballing talent in the country. Of course, every good idea has to have an equally profound subject who can make the project work. Sierra Leone certainly had that personality; the name, Alhassan Kamara. Affectionately known as ‘Saviour’, the little known striker was banging in goals left, right and centre for the best team in his country. Despite thoroughly enjoying his football, pocketing a mere £30 a week is a far cry from what we have come to envisage the modern player earning.  His income was insufficient to support his family as his parents continued running their business of selling water/cold drinks to keep the pennies rolling in. Amid the financial struggles faced by most families, football was repeatedly interrupted by chronic political revolt. Consequently, to remain in Western Africa was simply not an option for Saviour!

Fortunately, after watching the young sensation on the pitch, the journalists instantly recognised that they had found the man to invest their resources in. What followed was the tough struggle to obtain a Visa, while wrangling with clubs in the hope that someone would offer Saviour a trial. With hope gradually depleting, a club from the Swedish 3rd division badly needed a centre forward and saw Alhassan as the man to help them climb the table. His impact was immediate and became an instant fan favourite netting 5 times in 10 games during a 2011 loan spell. Kamara had bigger aspirations though and when the top club in the first division came calling, he transferred to AIK that October. The rigors of adapting to cultural chance have stinted his progress at his new club, but at just 20 years of age, he still believes that he can play for ‘one of the biggest clubs in Europe’.

Throughout Saviour’s adventure from his hometown to Sweden, Stephenson and Jones followed his progress through the lens of a camera. They hope for the story to find its way onto British television screens and here is just a snippet of what they have produced so far.

Stephenson paid aspiring journalists a visit at Hull’s Creator College on Thursday evening to both tell the extraordinary tale and discuss the effects that carrying a camera can have.  Reflectively, he conceded that the documentary’s intervention has only “accelerated the move [to AIK]…. Anybody with serious potential will earn their break at some point”.  Continuing to speak frankly, Stephenson admitted that the film will not suffer if Saviour’s career aspirations take an early blow. However, he has also been “charmed” by Alhassan’s enthusiasm and the tremendous support shown to both the football player and man surrounded by poverty. A project that was initially designed to make interesting viewing, quickly became impossible to remain emotionally removed from. The “overtly participatory” nature of the role thrust him into the spotlight and mentoring a player suffering from homesickness was another skill demanded of Stephenson.

Where will the project go in the future? In truth, few can say. Still, Saviour’s drive and determination to improve his football, and to transform Sierra Leone, makes it difficult to believe that this is the last we have heard of his name.

 

Rhyming with Rogers – Ashes Fever

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A poem penned in September courtesy of England’s Ashes series triumph over Australia. 

Twenty-Thirteen, an Ashes year

 Of both hype and furore,

Before we even started

There was controversy galore.

Better stick to the facts though,

Well when I choose to at least

Because for one, that DRS system,

Should be very closely policed.

Anyhow, the fun began

At a sunny Nottingham,

Where a local boy was rapped

For the crime that he had done.

[I]

The ball refused to turn for Swann

Despite abrasive rough,

Agar soon smashed Finn around,

The match was proving tough.

Then Ian Bell came marching in,

He likes to strut his stuff.

A defiant knock of one-o-nine

Was just about enough.

Erasmus was no humanist

And Aleem Dar no saint,

But Stuart Broad not walking,

Caused furious complaint.

[II]

At Lords, the hosts were soon three down,

The Poms played off the park,

Siddle thought he had Bairstow

But overstepped the mark.

England need not have feared though

The Aussie batsmen had no spark,

Scores of one-two-eight and two-three-five

Did not please Michael Clarke.

In England’s second innings,

Rooty came of age

And In doing so, showed the world,

He’s made for the biggest stage.

[III]

The Aussies had to win the third

If they should have a hope,

And so called upon Dave Warner

Who’d thrown punches at some bloke.

When the tourists notched 500

The whitewash went up in smoke,

Caught down leg and plumb in front

The skip began to choke.

With England in the mire,

Supporters prayed for rain

And under striped umbrellas,

The Ashes were retained.

[IV]

Staying put, the target now

An English series win,

But once again, the batting waned,

Ryan Harris wore a grin.

The match took a turn when,

Clarke’s off-peg went tumbling,

Runs dried up, the pressure told

On Smith, Watson, Haddin.

With nine men gone, time stood still

As Siddle looped a ball,

Sprinkler dances, Aussie rued missed chances,

We’d won three out of four.

[v]

The Oval was a dour affair

Until the fifth and final day

When the tourists made a game of it

But ‘twas deemed too dark to play.

Either way, the match was drawn

And the home players chose to stay

For a raucous time of urinating,

The evening’s cabaret.

Recover from those hangovers boys

We’ve got it all to do again,

In November, when we cross the seas,

Where we’ll have to bat like men.