The DTM made a long-awaited return to these shores over the weekend, putting on a loud, vibrant show around the Brands Hatch Grand Prix loop. It was the first time these Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters have been back to the Garden of England since 2013 and much has changed on the motorsport landscape. Continue Reading…
‘Bitter-sweet’ was the adjective du jour for David Gilbert yesterday. A professional since 2002, now 37, he has never won a ranking tournament and has earned just £600,000-odd from snooker. He still sometimes drives a tractor on his father’s farm in rural Derbyshire, to earn a few quid extra.
Why bitter-sweet? Because yesterday Gilbert played reigning world champion Mark Williams in the final of the World Open in Yushan, China, having beaten Barry Hawkins in the semi-finals, Marco Fu in the quarter-finals, and Ricky Walden, Ali Carter and Matthew Stevens in the early rounds. All have won ranking tournaments in careers far more distinguished than Gilbert’s, and none drives a tractor to make ends meet.
The final – a best-of-19 match – started sweetly for Gilbert. He was playing well, apparently undaunted by the stature of his opponent and the prestige of the event. He fired in a 142 break early on, and took the first session 5-4. The second session started gloriously for him. He began it by reeling off three frames to go 8-4 ahead, making breaks of 95 in both the 11th and the 12th so to do. Williams clawed one back – 8-5 – but Gilbert then knocked in a neat 84 break to go 9-5 up: one more frame would earn him victory… and £150,000.
Williams sat quietly in his seat. The winner of 21 ranking tournaments in his brilliant 26-year career, he had earned almost 10 times as much prize money as his underdog opponent. He is known for his unflappable ability to withstand pressure in tense matches, even finals, and, unlike Gilbert, he had been here before. His quarter-final, just a couple of days earlier, had been an example: 3-0 down against the season’s form horse so far, Jack Lisowski, a Riga Masters finalist two weeks ago, Williams knuckled down and won five frames on the trot to win 5-3. His semi-final went the same way: 5-2 down against Noppon Saengkham, he won all four remaining frames to defeat the talented young Thai 6-5.
He did exactly the same thing yesterday. From 9-5 down he won five frames in a row, playing some extraordinary shots including a red into the left middle pocket deliberately potted via a cannon, with the reds invitingly spread and therefore no safety margin whatsoever: the kind of shot usually essayed in exhibitions rather than in the tense final frames of a ranking tournament.
“At 9-5 down I was almost out,” he said afterwards. “To win three matches I’ve looked like losing is unbelievable. I never give up or let my head drop, no matter what the score is. I never let my opponent see that I’m losing heart, and then sometimes it does turn around. Whatever’s going on, you have to stick in there.”
That he did, winning his 22nd ranking tournament as he did so. Gilbert was bitterly disappointed, but the £75,000 runners-up cheque will keep him off his dad’s tractor for a while yet.
As Sky Sports took a collective breath, a metaphorical step away from gawping at the bright lights of the Premier League, it verged almost on the surprising to be reminded that football could even dare to exist beyond the realms of the world’s most saleable sporting product. The context was entirely typical of a marketeer unhealthily obsessed by its flagship cash-cow. Yet at the same time, it stank of a flagrant disregard for everything beyond the top flight. Continue Reading…
When Blackpool’s Winter Gardens opened on Bank Hey Estate in July 1878 the intention was to “place on the land a concert room, promenades, conservatories and other accessories… especially desirous during inclement days.” Continue Reading…
Something strange happened on Wednesday at Edgbaston. There was a Test match. There hasn’t been one in England for two whole months at the height of this glorious heatwave. Bonkers. Then they start one midweek. That wrong-footed the potential audience with thousands of empty seats. In an age where the longer format is struggling to compete with the interminable Twenty20 (Sky went straight off to Hove after the close of play), this was a massive own goal. Continue Reading…
The difficulty for a British tennis player transitioning from adolescence to world class is a complicated affair, but the path is often clear. The former years are spent playing various LTA events across the country, before they are nurtured through to national competitions and then events worldwide on the ATP Futures Tour. Andy Murray was playing British-based futures tournaments at the age of 15, but, Cameron Norrie decided to take a more unique approach to becoming a tennis pro, going through the US college system. Continue Reading…
Dave Brailsford got into mild bother a couple of weeks ago by accusing UCI President David Lappartient of sometimes having the mentality of a small town French Mayor… but there is mounting evidence that the Team Sky boss has a point. Continue Reading…
Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund)
Rejecting the chance to develop under Pep Guardiola was a decision born out of a desire to play, as Sancho saw more signings come through the door at Manchester City. Listing Ronaldinho as one of his idols, Sancho is thrilling to watch, and despite sometimes dwelling on the ball, England fans should be excited to have a player as confident and brave on the ball as this 18-year-old. After impressing in his cameos for Dortmund at the back end of last season, this season will hopefully grant him more playing time and a chance to establish his star status.
Andreas Pereira (Manchester United)
As José Mourinho continues to sulk about perceived deficiencies in his squad, Pereira could be a likely beneficiary of his manager’s prolonged tantrum. Having received positive reviews for his performances in various loan spells, Pereira has the quality and talent to star for a United side desperately short of creative ingenuity. Capable of slick passing and dangerous from set pieces, the young Brazilian has returned from Valencia a far more mature player, aware of the pattern of the game and capable of dictating it accordingly.
Rodri (Atletico Madrid)
Following the departure of inspirational captain and Diego Simeone loyalist Gabi, Atleti have given the fabled No14 shirt to the promising Spanish central midfielder. Simeone has built a squad again capable of wresting the La Liga trophy from the duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona, and this summer signing from Villarreal will be integral in providing the balance between the grit that Los Colchoneros have become synonymous with, and an expected greater emphasis on expression and skill in attack. Tenacious in the tackle and tactically astute his transition into the side will be seamless. He will no doubt flourish alongside the formidable midfield duo of Saúl and Koke.
Alen Halilovic (Milan)
Much was expected of the Croatian when he first joined Barcelona from Dinamo Zagreb’s prodigious academy at 19 years old. After failing to make a single appearance for the Catalans, Halilovic will be hoping to impress for Milan, as Gennaro Gattuso has invested in the clear and obvious talent despite mixed fortunes in his formative loan spells. Still in his relative footballing infancy, the chance to play for such a big club is nothing new, nonetheless it remains to be seen if Halilovic can filter the outside factors that have tried to manipulate his destiny. However, with a change of scene, and a considerable show of faith from his manager, this ‘wonderkid’ can still prove his class in a resurgent Serie A.
Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain)
Emerging from the World Cup a villain, and probably harbouring a fierce jealousy of Kylian Mbappé, Neymar will be scarily good this season. Whether or not you question the individualism that dictates his style of play, the Brazilian will be determined to showcase the “boy inside me that sometimes dazzles the world”, not the one “that pisses everyone off”. I cannot wait to see him prove the world wrong.
The England cricket selectors haven’t half got themselves in a spin before the first Test of the five-match series against India, which begins at Edgbaston tomorrow. Continue Reading…
By common consent Geraint Thomas winning the Tour de France is the best thing that has happened to cycling in a long while, a real game-changer that might hopefully cause some to ponder. For too long now cycling – which is manifestly not without its problems – has been hijacked by self-obsessed opinion-makers using the sport as an Aunt Sally and employing gossip, hearsay and incorrect information to vilify certain individuals.
The trolls though are having a complete ‘mare’ with Thomas because the Welshman is totally trusted and respected throughout the sport and among opposition riders and other team bosses, many of whom were rooting for him throughout the final week in France.
Those bosses have noted his numerous ‘man-of-the-match’ performances in support of others for a decade or more as he dragged his exhausted carcass over the line behind his team’s bigger names. They have offered Thomas a king’s ransom to sign for them but the Welshman has remained loyal to Team Sky and the British system.
Thomas is vey publicly and unapologetically the product of the GB Road Academy that Rod Ellingworth set up and then the GB track programme under Dave Brailsford and Shane Sutton that garnered an avalanche of gold medals. At two Olympics Thomas was a major engine in the GB Team Pursuit squads that broke world records for fun. And that dedication to the Team Pursuit and “to the guys” probably put him back four years as a Grand Tour rider. Ever the team man.
For the past nine seasons Thomas has been a constant at Team Sky. He defends them fiercely and his loyalty and continuing belief in their methods adds much validity. If there is no doubting Thomas it becomes extremely problematical trashing his cycling DNA and associates
There were always been big characters in front of him. Bradley Wiggins was a maverick and versatile talent signed specifically to deliver publicity, profile and a first British Tour win for a start-up team. Chris Froome was/is a supreme endurance athlete to build a dynasty around, but Thomas demonstrates the value of application, method, science and belief. And luck. After a career punctured with bad luck, the pendulum finally swung for Thomas this year
All this is agonising for the trolls, especially after the attempted trashing of Froome was exposed when he was exonerated in a salbutamol ‘case’ that never was. Incorrect data on a non-performance-enhancing medicine mischievously leaked by somebody at the UCI. A WADA testing system disowned by its embarrassed inventor. It never passed the sniff test.
The full story about Wiggins and his justified, and UCI/WADA/UKAD-approved, use of TUEs – the complete opposite of doping – on just three occasions during his 20-year career will at some stage make its way into the public arena. As will, eventually, the fact that Team Sky were the most sparing users of TUEs in the entire peloton’s history. #trollsontherun