Friday, July 8, 2011

Experiencing San Fermin

This time last year I had just returned from an incredible experience inter-railing around Europe for five weeks with my twin brother, Tom.

By far the best experience of that trip was San Fermin in Pamplona, a usually small and tranquil town in northern Spain.

The festival is perhaps most famous for the running of the bulls and after deciding just two days before to head north west from

Barcelona to Pamplona on our trip we had already somewhat naively decided to do the run.

With no place to stay and a sleepless night in the local park our only proposed option we got lucky, very lucky.

On a rare call home a family member said they had a friend in Pamplona and through the wonders of Facebook we were able to make contact and result! we had a place to stay.

With a maximum of 26 hours to experience the fiesta before we had to catch a train to Bordeaux and fly home we got stuck in straight away changing into the full San Fermin gear: plain white clothing, red scarf and a red neckerchief.

Throughout our trip we met mostly Australians and Americans who were of course boasting that they were planning to run with the bulls.

But the mood changed when we got to Pamplona and spoke to the locals. With the red wine flowing we were optimistic of our chances of running but were becoming increasingly worried by how many of the locals were telling us not to do it!

So at 2am after a great night partying it was time to head back to our adopted house for the night. Hitting the hay about half an hour later we were both concerned whether we would be in a fit state to run but left it to 'we'll see how we feel in the morning.'

The alarm went off at 6.30am and up we got nervously re-applying our wine soaked kit and headed off in the hope of finding the start.

The Run

Unsurprisingly not feeling our sharpest and already running late we made our way through the spectators and onto the 'track'. We decided to head towards the end and nearer the bull ring as we didn't fancy our chances to outrun the bulls for the full 800m.

We past the reassuringly named 'deadman's corner' on our way to our desired stop half-way up Estafa Street, noticing the boarded up bars we had been in just hours ago. While realising we weren't in the best shape we thought as 19-year-old young men our condition wasn't too bad. However seeing the experienced locals stretching and warming up was somewhat unnerving.

Something else that caught our eye was them holding rolled up newspapers that we soon found out were used as a barrier between themselves and the bulls. So... we were slightly hungover, untrained and unprepared - time to get the game face on.

Without sounding selfish the run is something you have to do only thinking of yourself - running alongside and keeping an eye out for Tom was not an option.

When the cracker goes off your initially instinct, like many others, is to start running but that would be jumping the gun so to speak. I realised from the disapproving elite runners that this was wrong and as an over eager amateur I had to wait for the raging bulls to get closer!

After settling myself down I was off again, another false start!

So what gave me my second false start? The sound of the bulls smashing into the side of round deadman's corner. I slowed gently before thinking perhaps a false start wasn't such a bad idea and got back into my stride. I kept looking over my shoulder as well as making sure no one got in my way or tripped me up and was pretty disappointed that I couldn't see any bulls... but then I heard the bells.

I looked to my right and there they were, six raging stampeding bulls with piercing horns within two metres of me and I'm not ashamed to say that I bottled it - diving to my left behind the temporary fencing. As I regathered myself I noticed that I was yards from the entrance at gate 15. After double checking over my right shoulder I made my way into the bull ring.

One last sprint to plunge over the side of the arena in a mad dash as a few stray bulls came through ended the run for me with a mixture of feeling relieved, excited and still a fair amount of fear.

What about Tom! As I watched the young bulls come out into the ring to play with the remainder of people I opted to sit it out. As time went by and I witnessed someone being spun in the air before knocking himself out on his landed and with no way of contact I began to worry about the whereabouts of my younger brother - by all of eight minutes.

But fortunately he had spotted me from the other side of the arena and came beaming over shouting “We've done it!”

Morally right or wrong?

The bull running is a controversial topic throughout the World and for me the decision to run was all about the thrill and adrenaline. I have always wondered what it would feel like to run fearing for your life and as these bulls can easily kill and have proved so in recent years this was my opportunity. So yes my reasoning was morally wrong but it is something that as a 'crazy tourist' I won't be doing again but will be returning for the fiesta!!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

BUCS Northern Conference Cup (Semi-final) UCLan 5-4 MMU Chesire

UCLan men scored a golden goal winner after coming from 3-0 down to beat MMU Cheshire 5-4 and set up a final clash against Newcastle University.

The students will travel to York to face the North East side after a gripping semi-final encounter at UCLan sports arena that saw Tom Kendall grab the winner just minutes into extra-time.

It didn't all go UCLan's way however and the Lancashire side were forced to come from behind when they found themselves 3-0 down inside the opening 20 minutes.

With the rain pouring down it looked like it was going to be a miserable day for the home side, who have scored a total of 37 goals so far in the cup and conceded just seven.

But captain Roy Dutoy produced a great piece of individual skill with ten minutes remaining of the first half. The 22-year-old rounded three defenders in the D’ before being upended by a fourth to win a penalty flick.

The responsibility to convert from the spot fell to forward Will Lasey, who has 22 goals in all competitions this year, and he didn’t disappoint lifting the ball into the roof of the net.

UCLan now had the momentum and crucially pulled another goal back just before the break through Mike Holmes, after a nicely worked short corner routine. Dutoy slipped the ball to Holmes on top of the D and with a firm push he slammed the ball past the rooted goalkeeper.

The game was back on and the fans were getting behind the home side but after a strong second half start from UCLan it was the away side that extended their lead. MMU Cheshire midfielder Dave Flanagan drove into the D before playing in Ross Green who scored past Adam Dixon in the UCLan goal with 45 minutes played.

But with 20 minutes remaining UCLan didn’t give up and head-coach Luke Wilson made a decision to change tactics. He switched left half Richard Wood into midfield with Danny Large stepping into his position at the back. A knee injury to Preet Rayat forced Sam Ross into midfield while Dutoy was pushed further forward to play alongside Lacey.

The move paid off as UCLan dominated their opponents and the revival began when the impressive Dutoy found himself free in the D’ and unleashed a stunning reverse stick effort which flew into the back of the net.

A succession of short corners, one of which saw defender Kalum Furgus in the sin-bin for barging Lacey, resulted in UCLan drawing level with just five minutes left.

Lacey received the ball at the top of the D’ and drag flicked straight between the keeper’s legs to set up a tense and nervy remaining few minutes, where both teams seemed to settle for the draw and head into golden goal extra-time.

After a highly paced and hardly fought 70 minutes, extra time was not what the players wanted. Despite coming from behind Wilson told his men that the comeback was irrelevant but to continue playing how they ended the game.

The formation was kept the same and after Jason Chan had dealt with a routine aerial, UCLan had found the winner with their first attack of extra time.

Dutoy smashed a ball in from the right which was stopped by defender Jake Metcalfe but the MMU Cheshire captain played the ball straight to Sam Ross with his clearance. Ross then found Kendall on the back post whose diving deflection was worthy of winning any game and sent UCLan into ecstasy.

UCLan will now travel to a neutral venue in York to face Newcastle University on Wednesday 23rd March for a chance of lifting the North Conference Cup.

Photo: (from top left, clockwise) Tom Dutoy, Preet Rayat, Richard Wood, Danny Large, Adam Dixon, Liam Sharp, Jason Chan, Daniel Jones, Luke Wilson (coach), Will Lasey, Sam Ross, John Edwards, Tom Kendall and Sam Goudie.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Dougie Freedman among best young managers

Dougie Freedman's reign as Crystal Palace manager has seen the Scot experience all possible results three times. He has won three games, one as caretaker boss, drawn three and lost three, two of which were away at Coventry City in the League and FA Cup.

There is no doubt that Freedman was going to be a popular manager at Selhurst Park but some did question his ability as a manager when he took over. In my opinion he will grow to become one of the best young managers in the football league.

So why not have a look at some of the other young managers that have done well and also those that have struggled in the Football League?

1.) Karl Robinson (MK Dons): Robinson is currently the youngest manager in the football league, aged just 30-years-old, and is perhaps Freedman's closest rival. He has spent most of his playing career in the non-leagues but took over at the Dons following the resignation of Paul Ince and has made a modest start to the 2010/2011 campaign with his side currently lying in 12th place. He is also the youngest manager to acquire a UEFA pro license when he was 29-years-old.

2.) Paul Ince (Notts County): The former Manchester United, Liverpool and Inter Milan midfielder despite being just 43-years-old has already managed four different clubs. His
management career began where his playing one ended; Macclesfield Town. After signing as player-manager two days after his 39th birthday injury forced him to fully concentrate on football management. He successfully secured Macclesfield's safety after joining the Silkmen when they were nine points adrift of their nearest rivals at the foot of League Two.
Ince then moved to MK Dons in June 2007 where his guidance saw them crowned champions of League Two as well as lift the Jonstone's Paint Trophy. Ince was seriously considered as the one of the best young English manager's out there and after rumours of Premier League interest he quickly moved onto manage Blackburn Rovers. Perhaps the move was too quick as he struggled and was ultimately sacked in December 2008 after only being appointed in June of the same year. He made a swift return to MK Dons for the start of the 2009/10 season but only lasted a year before joining current club Notts County in October 2010.

3.) Chris Brass: The 35-year-old is an example of someone that hasn't made the transition from player to coach at the same club very well. As a player Brass spent the majority of his career at Burnley (134 apps) and York City (152 apps). It was at York where he was in-trusted with the duty of management after being installed as player-manager in May 2003. Despite starting the campaign well the Minstermen lost their final 20 league games and were subsequently relegated to the Conference - hardly the ideal start for an aspiring young manager. He is now assistant manager at Bury.

4.) Aidy Boothroyd (Coventry City): After spells as youth coach and reserve team coach
elsewhere Boothroyd was appointed manager of Watford when he was just 34-years-old. He became one of the most respected
young managers after he guided Watford to safety and then re-established the Hornets as a Premier League team in that dreadful 3-0 home defeat at Selhurst Park in the first leg of the play-offs. Despite finishing bottom of the Premier League the next season they reached the FA Cup semi-final. Following relegation and failure to secure an immediate return to the top flight Boothroyd left by mutual consent. He went on to manager Colchester before being appointed as Coventry boss last May replacing former Eagle Chris Coleman and has so far been a thorn in Freedman's quest for management glory.

5.) Paul Dickov (Oldham Athletic): The former Manchester City forward has taken to management well since he took charge at Oldham as player manager. The 38-year-old has made some controversial decisions during his short tenur at the Lancashire club including letting go player of the year and club captain Sean Gregan as well as top goalscorer Pawel Abbott. Dickov seems to have been a big hit with the Latics fans and it looks as
though he is making the transition into management from a player with ease.

6. (With a twist) Michael Knighton (Carlisle United): The former Machester United and Carlisle chairman decided to take charge of the Blue Army himself in 1997 when he was 46-years-old and sacked popular manager Mervyn Day who had just guided Carlisle to promotion into Division Two. Unsurprisingly he failed and Carlisle were relegated to Division Three and Knighton who once claimed to have seen a UFO later stepped down and the fans formed the 'United Trust' against his ownership. He eventually left the club in 2002.

This is just a list of some others you could include: Eddie Howe (Burnley), Keith Hill (Rochdale), Simon Grayson (Leeds United) and Nigel Pearson (Hull City).

Missed anyone you think is among the best young managers around?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Eddie Howe favourite for Crystal Palace manager's job

Why get Eddie Howe when we have our own howegenius waiting in the wings

Eddie Howe has emerged as the front runner for the Crystal Palace manager's job but why when we have our own equivalent more than keen to take on the role in Dougie Freedman.

If you look at how Howe got involved at Dean Court it is fairly similar to Freedman at Palace. Howe joined the coaching set up at Bournemouth in 2006 when he was 29-years-old as player-coach by then manager Kevin Bond. He then progressively

worked his way up to manager in 2008 after being youth team coach and caretaker manager.

As a player Howe played over 200 times for the Cherries, Freedman made over 300 for Palace, before he was forced to retire early after failing to recover form a knee injury. And as a manager Howe's record since taking the reigns is exceptionable especially with all the difficulties surrounding the club when he took charge.

There is no doubt in my mind that Howe will do well in South London if appointed but I just feel it will be a missed opportunity with Freedman. One thing stalling Steve Parish and the rest of the board in committing to Freedman is his lack of experience - well he didn't display any signs of that in the 1-0 home victory over Preston.

For me his lack of experience is not an issue - look what he went through as assistant with Paul Hart last year and George Burley this season he must have already learnt an invaluable amount.

Instead of pinching Howe from Bournemouth we should look at the way they built the club with him. They are so proud of what they have achieved under one of the youngest managers in the football league. I truly believe that is something we can have under Freedman and maybe even better.

Personally I naively feel we are in no threat of being relegated this season and that is why I think it is a great time to build a team that we can be proud of and one that would flourish under a clever, young and ambitious manager.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Who is in line to be the next Crystal Palace manager?

With nearly a year on since Niel Warnock left Selhurst Park the Eagles are once again searching for a new manager - what will be their third since Warnock's departure. Apparently 20 managers with Premier League or Championship experience have applied, so who are the likely candidates?

Chris Hughton: Hughton has been tipped as the favourite to be the next manager of the Eagles by some of the national papers over the weekend despite Chairman Steve Parish denying ever speaking to the former Newcastle boss and insisting his appearance at the 3-0 defeat to
Millwall on New Years Day was a coincidence. While Hughton eased his Newcastle side back into the Premier League last season at the first time of asking and was harshly dismissed by Toon chairman Mike Ashley I feel Hughton is not the man Palace need. He came away from the Newcastle job with a great deal of credit from fans and the players but to me questions still linger over his managerial capabilities. The Newcastle team that got promoted last season had the likes of Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton, Andy Carroll, Shola Ameobi and Alan Smith - all top flight players.

Steve Coppell: The Daily Mirror described Coppell as a shock contender for the role.
Why he is a shock contender I am struggling to work out, he would in many Palace fans eyes be the ideal man to replace Burley but there are worries whether he wants to manage again after his spell at Bristol City. Coppell is a true Palace legend and some thought he may take the reins last year after the departure of Warnock and now the club is stable with the January transfer window just opened it may be an even more appealing position. Others have suggested that Coppell could come in as a Director of Football role offering support to CPFC 2010 and the manager. What is certain at the minute surrounding Coppell is that Parish is going to talk to him about the role whether he sees him fit in or who is the ideal candidate is his mind.

Dougie Freedman: The current caretaker manager and Palace legend had the fans singing his name in Monday's crucial 1-0 home victory over fellow strugglers Preston North End. Concerns surrounding Freedman is his lack of experience but Parish has admitted that the result against Preston has left him with a dilemna. The former Palace frontman made some tough decisions in that game that perhaps showed he is not all that inexperienced at the helm of the dugout. He firstly bought on Kieran Cadogan for Stuart O'Keefe who went on to set up Steffen Iversen's debut goal. He then replaced the Norwegian forward for Calvin Andrew and subbed Wilfred Zaha for David Wright adopting a defensive system for the
remaining ten minutes.

Chris Coleman: Former Eagle Coleman was voted in Palace's centenary XI and is likely to
have put his name forward for the job. He has experience with Premier League side Fulham and Championship side Coventry as well as time abroad in Spain with Real Sociedad. He did well as Fulham manager with not a great squad especially after loosing Edwin van der Sar, Louis Saha, Steed Malbranque and Luis Boa Morte. After spending a year and a half at the Ricoh Arena he failed to really push them on as a club finishing last season just above the relegation zone in 19th place before being sacked.

Gareth Southgate: Another former Palace player that will be keen to get back into management since his departure from Middlesbrough. He will be eager to prove himself after a poor record at the Riverside but may pose something of a risk in my opinion. Didn't do much at Borough to convince many he is a decent manager and may need some time elsewhere to prove himself before his chance at Selhurst.

Possible Premier League managers that may have put their name forward may include Sam Allardyce, Paul Jewell, Alan Curbishley, Martin O'Neil or Phil Brown.

Whoever CPFC 2010 chose to replace Burley they must not rush into the decision despite the january transfer window being open and keep the faith with Dougie to do the job until a successor is found. For me the answer is to keep the young combination of Dean Austin and Freedman and install Coppell as Director of Football to guide them. They need to get someone in for the long term which they thought Burley was and if they are to look elsewhere from the Palace foundations then Alan Curbishley is one man who would fit the bill well.

Steffen Iversen scores on debut for Crystal Palace

Burley's parting present will prove a big hit for Palace

The signing of former Spurs legend Steffen Iversen was viewed by some football fans across the country as another attempt by Crystal Palace to gain extra attention and was compared to the Davids deal as a PR stunt.

Well whether a PR stunt or not Iverson will prove to be one of our best assets over the coming months. In the warm-up he looked very sharp and during the game he was faultless winning
flick-ons and showed some nice touches. The only thing lacking was the inability of the Palace players to be
on the same wavelength as the Norwegian but that is no surprise after the 34-year-old was only cleared to play the morning of the game.

Another exciting prospect will be the return of Darren Ambrose to the line up who will hopefully provide the crosses for Iversen who at times looked frustrated with the lack of quality service he perhaps remembered seven years ago when he last played in England.

While some of Burley's signings during his five-month stint as manager at Selhurst have not lived up to their expectations it seems that the Scot has left with a belated Christmas present and parting gift that in my opinion will fire the Eagles up the table.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Interview: Daniel Sliwinski (Commonwealth Games 2010)

Bronze medallist Daniel Sliwinski talks about his frustration at his first Commonwealth accolade, “Delhi belly” and how he once contemplated quitting swimming altogether.

As Sliwinski strides out to the blocks at the Commonwealth Games the first thing that strikes you is his sheer size, not forgetting he his among other swimmers who aren’t exactly tarnished with the reputation of being small and fragile. But for someone that towers 6ft5ins over the pool it is refreshing how firmly his feet are secured on the ground.

The 20-year-old from Penwortham lined up alongside Liam Tancock, Antony James and Simon Burnett to claim bronze in the 4x100m medlay relay. But winning bronzeat his first international senior meet wasn't good enough for a young man who at just 18-years-old beat Duncan Goodhew’s Olympic gold medal winning time at Moscow in 1980 to smash the British youth and World youth record.

On his first senior podium triumph Sliwinski blamed an incredibly unlucky injury plagued season, he said: "It was good but frustrating because I had an injury corrupted season and I reckon we could have pushed for gold.

“For me that medal wasn't a medal for the race but a medal for getting through the season. To get through one broken wrist is one thing but to have two within six months is mentallypretty challenging.
Photo (right) by [All Rights Reserved]

"I would have liked to have gone a little bit faster but that's always going to be the case. I'm happy I came away with the experience; I suppose it's quite rare that you go to your first senior meet and come back with a medal. I've got a few extra points in the bag ahead of the Worlds next year and the Olympics in 2012."

Individually Sliwinski was slightly off the pace in the 50m and 100m breaststroke finishing sixth and eighth respectively. But once again was forced to battle against the elements after the curry-lover was struck down with Delhi belly.

With others moaning about the conditions in Delhi Sliwinski just got on with it and while admitting it 'wasn't a painful' experience he can't honestly say how much it affected his performance.

He said: "I don't think you can go to India and say you've got a way that's 100% bullet proof to not get Delhi belly, you either get it or you don't. Ironically I got it when I stopped eating curry. It's draining but everyone is in the same boat so you just get on with it. It's just an inconvenience really.

“You could add in how much did it affect me in terms of would I have gone quicker if I was 100% - I don't know. I couldn't possibly answer that question.”

For many young athletes the prospect of heading out to a developing country to compete in a multi-stage sports event for the first time would be a daunting one. But the former Bolton high school student seemed to take it in his stride with ease, just as it seems he approaches life in general.

He said that the whole Commonwealth experience 'wasn't like a shock or bewildering but obviously really enjoyable.'

“It is one of the few multi-stage sports events you can go to, other than the Olympics, so you’ve just got to try and enjoy every moment."

As well as preparing himself for competition there was the added danger of the reported conditions out in Delhi. The Athletes Village was rumoured to be unsatisfactory and even snakes were found in some rooms but once again that was something that didn't trouble the 20-year-old.

"Before every event there is always some form of negative headlines. I'm pretty sure there will be some for the Olympics, where something won't be ready and then miraculously it is. I think it was something out of nothing and a third world country was an easy pick for the media."

But Sliwinski could have been watching someone else pick up his medal after nearly deciding to quit the sport that had played such a major role in his life since he was five-years-old.

Approaching 16-years-old and ready to enter adulthood Sliwinski took time out to assess his options. No-one can question how demanding a sport swimming is and not many people would blame a teenager for not wanting to wake up before sunrise to head down to West View Leisure centre to begin training.

Sliwinski had lost his love for the sport, he said: “I took a couple of months out just because I just got frustrated and didn't know whether I wanted to continue. I was stuck between two Islands.

“I had just got bored and realised it was a part of my life where I had gone through school sacrificing friends. I didn’t know whether to try and catch up with all my school friends or just carry on with all my friends from Swimming and I chose swimming.”

And once he made that choice he threw everything into his swimming seemingly adopting the saying ‘if you’re going to do something you may as well do it properly.’

He said: “Hand on heart I didn’t start putting everything into training until about four-years ago. I moved back home and started to train a bit more seriously. I got some British records and that is when I really started to knuckle down.”

With a bronze medal already under his belt at his first senior meet you would think his decision to continue swimming was justified but for Sliwinski it has not fully paid off just yet.

He said: “It's slowly paying off, I wouldn’t say it's fully paid off yet. It will pay off when I’m in my forties and I can lie in bed past four o’clock in the morning.”