Sunday, 9 May 2010


There are few sights in sport more rewarding than a three-pointer dropping cleanly through the hoop. We're talking basketball here, and the long shots that hit the mark came from the deft fingers of Trey Moore and James Jones as Everton Tigers pulled off one of the sporting achievements of the year to win the British Basketball Championship final last night.
Persuading that ball to pass through the hoop for two points is tough enough from close quarters, but when a player takes the gamble and goes for three from further out it is a sweet sensation.
And just as sweet that Everton Tigers should win a title when logic said they had no right even to be there. The Tigers were hit by significant financial problems back in September. So massive credit is due not just to the players and their coach Tony Garbelotto but also to the club's general manager John Cooper and backer Martyn Best of Liverpool PR firm Paver Smith.
I was watching from the heart of the Tigers support at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham as Everton trampled all over their underdog status and gave opponents Glasgow Rocks a similar hammering. As an object lesson in taking a game by the scruff of the neck this could not be bettered. With Garbelotto prowling the sidelines like a demented tarantula they were up 23-9 after the first quarter and 45-28 at half-time. Then the Rocks rolled back to wipe out the deficit and, early in the final quarter, take the lead. Momentum now with the Scots and their kilted followers? No way. The Tigers dug deep for one last time, Moore sank another three-pointer and it was all over.
Back in the 1980s James Jones's dad Jeff was a quality performer with a previous incarnation of basketball on Merseyside. The then Liverpool Basketball Club, brainchild of a sports scientist Vaughan Thomas and an incorrigible optimist Colin Bentley, created a real buzz. It didn't last and it would be naive to assume that yesterday's result in Birmingham will guarantee the new team eternal life either. But sport is about seizing the day, and this day, this season, belongs to the Everton Tigers.

Thursday, 6 May 2010


It’s polling day in the UK but for some of us the vote that really matters has already been announced.

At one minute past midnight the news was officially released that Chester FC’s supporters organisation, City Fans United, has been awarded the lease of the Deva Stadium by the owners, Cheshire West and Chester Council.

This was not a “gimme.” There was a rival bid from a Danish consortium who had useful support from Jan Molby and Mark Wright. But the council has taken what I believe to be completely the correct option.

Had the Danes succeeded there was a real risk that football would disappear from Chester for ever. Supporters and the public at large have been so enthused by the CFU campaign that it is doubtful that many would have rolled up to see matches staged by a set-up parachuted in from abroad.

The fans can take massive credit. Last August they were angry, disillusioned, and most significantly isolated. Antagonised, then alienated, then scorned by the ill-fated Vaughan regime they felt helpless. But they got together. They held meetings and people turned up in droves. They looked at a future without the great game and didn’t like it. They discovered a real appetite to keep professional football alive.

Clever, sensible, articulate people emerged to lead and organise. Suddenly, things were happening. Lines of communication with the public were established. Money was raised. Outings for kids were organised. All good, positive developments the like of which the dying regime could never have emulated.

Most important of all, a credible business plan was formulated which has convinced the council that the fans are the correct custodians for the future.

Comparing the situation today with that of a year ago, this is a dramatic and astonishing victory for football supporters.

I congratulate CFU and wish them every success. They don’t need me to tell them that the hard work is only just starting. But in the best football tradition, they should take each day as it comes and that means enjoying today to the full, a great day to be a football fan.

Sunday, 2 May 2010


Sport is all over the front page of the News of the World today. The paper’s legendary investigator Mazher Mahmood has world snooker champion John Higgins in the dock over allegations of match fixing.
According to Mahmood, whose previous victims include Sven Goran Eriksson, Higgins and his agent Pat Mooney were suckered by a typical NOTW scam and ended up agreeing to lose certain frames in certain matches in the future. This would enable a betting syndicate to clean up.
If true, the claims would be a severe blow for snooker. In fact even before the investigation has started the sport has been damaged. On the day when the World Snooker Final began, everyone was talking about foul play and not the match.
No doubt many will be as angry with the journalists as they are with Higgins. Messengers still tend to be shot. Especially when the paper has not actually uncovered any corruption which has already taken place, but instead set a trap and lured the snooker men into it.
So a lot hangs on the proof. Higgins claims his conscience is clear, Mahmood parades evidence from filmed conversations.
The outcome will be fascinating and if the NOTW has indeed flushed out a corrupt champion then that is a good result for journalism. Either way, it does the sporting world no harm to know that Mahmood and his ilk are out there. Which sportsman, when offered a bribe in the future, will be able to avoid the sneaking suspicion that he might just be on the end of a NOTW scam, and decide that the best policy is to stay on the straight and narrow?

Saturday, 1 May 2010


It was a sad day for the city of Preston on Friday evening when the National Football Museum locked up for the last time. The concrete cavern built into Preston North End's stadium will remain in partial use as a repository for artefacts, but the displays now move to the Urbis Centre in Manchester.
It's a blow for Preston and a blow for the idea that the wealth of a nation should be spread the length and breadth of that nation. Concentrating everything in metropolitan centres is great for the metropolitan folk, but there is more to our country than that. Having the NFM in Preston was part of a wonderfully English pattern in which you can visit St Ives and find a world class art gallery or go to York and find a magnificent railway museum.
The economic reality was different and, in the end, compelling. Not enough visitors came to Preston. The NFM on its own was not enough of a magnet. Manchester will, I am sure, be different. People visit Manchester for many reasons and while there, a good proportion will find their way to the new NFM.
My company did a fair amount of work for the NFM a few years ago, and the work we were asked to do pointed up some of the problems. We filmed the annual Hall of Fame ceremonies in three consecutive years for the Museum's own use, but on no occasion was the event held in Preston! We trekked to Blackpool, to Bolton and to Liverpool to film fabulous events attended by the glitterati of football and many top media people. Why on earth were these people being invited to every which place EXCEPT Preston? The argument was that Preston did not have anywhere big enough to host the event, which for many simply emphasised that Preston was the wrong place for the museum in the first place. But surely the Hall of Fame should have been used as a gilt-edged opportunity to drag the good and the great to the museum itself, even if it meant putting up a giant marquee on the Deepdale car park.
The other weird thing was that the museum didn't seem to know what to do with the footage once we'd filmed it. Every year we not only filmed the presentations and speeches but conducted exclusive one-on-one interviews with the big personalities, everyone from Sepp Blatter to Sir Alex Ferguson to Dixie Dean's daughter Barbara. What use has been made of that footage? They asked us to put together a short promo which was used to attract sponsors but to the best of my knowledge a large amount of exclusive material has never seen the light of day, and probably never will.