Category Archives: Sport

Why in Tag Rugby is a girl’s try worth twice that of a boys?

touch
Prior to puberty, there are no significant differences between boys and girls in height, weight, strength or endurance. Therefore, from a physical standpoint, children can participate equitably in all sports and physical activities on a coeducational basis until puberty. 

That is the not very surprising conclusion of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Sports Medicine Department that I found when I googled whether there was any significant variation between a boy and girl’s ability to participate in sports at primary school age (up to 11 in the UK).

This fits with what I would have presumed and reinforces the sense of outrage that my primary school teacher friend felt when she was researching tag rugby and found this caveat in the rules:

tag

Taking that there are no significant differences between boys and girls in height, weight, strength or endurance one has to wonder why a girl’s try would be valued at twice the score of a boys.

The stated aim is ‘to encourage greater teamwork’ but it offers no guidance on how having a separate scoring system for young girls than young boys encourages this teamwork. As far as I can see, all it does is highlight a difference between children which, at primary school age, is primarily not there.

I would be interested to hear from other P.E teachers, rugby coaches etc to see I’ve got the wrong end of the stick on this.

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Some reflections on learning to kayak on the River Nile

Paddling past 'The Bad Place' on the River Nile

Paddling past ‘The Bad Place’ on the River Nile

I have always loved the outdoors and growing up I occasionally ventured out onto the flat waters of the River Wye, close to my parent’s house in the UK, to do some paddling with my local scout group.

As much as enjoyed these ventures out into the pleasant surroundings of the Wye valley, kayaking remained for me a sport that failed to conjure the passion or excitement of other sports I loved in my teenage years such as mountaineering, football or skiing.

When I moved to Uganda then, it took me almost a whole year until I was persuaded by friends into trying my hand at white-water kayaking on the River Nile.

In retrospect my biggest regret is that I waited this long to try it. Equally though, it was far from love at first sight, or perhaps a more appropriate axiom, all plain sailing from the start.

Getting off the water at the end of the first lesson I knew that a seed had been planted that had the potential to grow into a real passion. I made a conscious choice, despite feeling apprehensive, to give this seed the best chance possible to grow and booked myself onto an additional four lessons with the kayak school ‘Kayak the Nile’.

At that stage, I can remember distinctly feeling that my enthusiasm for kayaking could go either way. As much as I enjoyed the adrenalin of kayaking my first rapid, I also remember a few hours earlier the less pleasurable spluttering for air as I first attempted an upside-down ‘t-rescue’.

Looking back on the last 10 months of padding, I can see though that it was as much the spluttering for air moments, the times I had to work hard, to persevere at practicing skills as it was the exciting splashing down rapids that have helped grow my initial excitement into a real passion.

The hours I spent alone in mate’s swimming pools practising, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, my flat-water role and the sense of achievement at now rolling in (quite) big white-water stands as just one illustration of this.

Unlike some friends that I see now out on the water I don’t feel like kayaking came naturally to me. It took me a bit longer than what I have observed to be ‘normal’ to start feeling relaxed out on the water and especially upside-down.

Even now, 10 months after starting this sport, I still feel panicked when I move into territories that are new to me. Just last weekend I went to surf a wave that was much larger than I was used to and this filled me with an apprehension that, at least in part, dictated how I kayaked on the wave.

It only seems fair at this point to give a virtual hat-tip to the instructors of ‘Kayak the Nile’ who seemed to instinctively know that when I said my goal was to ‘feel in control on the wave’ I was not just referring to the physical challenge of staying up-right but the psychological one of staying relaxed and confident.

Without the careful and consistent guidance of the instructors I am convinced that my seedling of passion planted on that first lesson could easily have been flushed away at any moment.

For as much as I am grateful to the instructors though it is an interesting reflection to note that learning to kayak is also a lot about learning to understand and control yourself. It is not just about taught new skills.

It might sound like an exaggeration to say kayaking teaches you to ‘learn about yourself’ but from a personal experience I can say that one of the most rewarding parts of learning to kayak has been the journey of learning to stay psychologically more in control (for I still don’t feel 100% in control) out on the water.

My passion for kayaking on the Nile though goes beyond all of this.

There is something really profoundly special about being about being on such a huge powerful expanse of water.

Out the Nile I feel something comparable to how I do in large mountain ranges. I feel a sense of my own size and vulnerability in the grand scheme of nature, I feel a sense of wonder at the amazing beauty that surrounds me and a sense of profound appreciation that I am lucky enough to have experienced it.

Even the experience of being near the Nile the night before feels magical. I love waking up after camping on the banks of Nile to see the strong sunlight breaking through the trees with the sort of intensity you only really get on the equator. I love lying in my tent hearing the powerful sound of the water in the rapids carving itself through the rocks in the Nile. I love the, admittedly quite hippy, idea that kayaking is about harnessing the amazing power of nature and working with it.

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Most of all though I think enjoy sharing this passion with people. I love seeing friends do their first lesson, first roll, or first trick on a wave. I love watching those with less experience than me and seeing them progress as much as I love watching those with far more experience than me and feeling that mixture of aspiration and dread about what I might, or might not, be able to achieve in the future.

When I move away from the paddler’s paradise of the River Nile I have no idea if this passion will stay with me but I do know that at this moment I really hope it does.

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My guide on how not to prepare and run a half marathon

In pain after my latest 21km of badly prepared for running

In pain after my latest 21km of badly prepared for running

‘A specialist in failure’ is how would so far sum up my running career. Three half marathons spread over 5 years and each one has, in its own way been a gigantic disaster.

Firstly my running history…

At the 2009 Brussel’s half marathon I undertook some serious training and at the nimble age of 23 I thought I might have a good chance of running it in a half decent time. I have since learnt that pints of gin and tonics the night before are not the best preparation for a 21km run.

Despite the hangover I stumbled round the course in 2:10.

Of course, the 2009 Brussel’s half marathon was meant as a warm up 5 weeks before the Stroud half marathon in the UK. Sadly, after literally stumbling over the finish line in Brussels and then starting a new job, my training schedule essentially ceased to exist.  I stopped running.

Again, I have since learnt that doing no exercise 5 weeks before a 21km is not such a good idea. However, hangover free and with a good night’s sleep behind me I managed to cut 10 minutes off my time and sneaked in just under 2 hours (notably 7 minutes slower that my to be father in law who is in his 50s and was running his first half marathon at the time).

On this latter occasion though I was running to raise some money for CLIC Sargent – an organisation that provides care for young people with cancer. So the money raised for a good cause provided a nice silver lining in Stroud.

For the last 5 years though I have dwelled slightly on these two relative failure of runs and always thought that I could, if I avoided being drunk and kept to a training schedule, manage to run a half marathon in a way that I was proud.

And so, 5 weeks ago I decided to sign up for the ‘Run for Fun’ race between Entebbe and Kampala here in Uganda.

I haven’t really run (let alone for fun) since 2009 and so the observant amongst you might have spotted a flaw already – 5 weeks really is not long enough to prepare for a half marathon.

However what I lacked in time, fitness and basic training I made up for in optimism. I not only signed up but also decided to start fundraising for the ‘The African Palliative Care Association’ (see ‘Why I am running for APCA’).

The problem with fundraising for a great cause is that it means you have to go public – you have to share your fundraising page on facebook, twitter and your blog etc. In other words, in my mind at least, there was no backing out.

2 weeks into my inadequate 5 week training I hit a rather painful stumbling block. Once again alcohol was at the root of the problem. Rather drunkenly on a Friday night I fell off the top of a moving Land Rover (spare me the ‘it could have been a lot worse’ comments, I quite realize this).

Luckily I did nothing more than land heavily on my bum – although it could have indeed been a lot worse.

This little alcohol induced stumble though did cause a lot of swelling all round my hip which took about 2 weeks to go down and left all of my muscles feeling rather tight.

For the last week before the date of the half marathon then I did not (could not) run. All I could do was a lot of stretching.

By the time the run came about my leg was feeling ‘OK’ with the exception of my groin that was still feeling tight on my right side.

In retrospect I had my doubts but spurred on my fiancé who was also running and who had also missed weeks of training due to a throat infection I thought I would ‘give it a go’ on the basis I could always stop if it started to really hurt.

16.5km and 1:45 into the race I was a feeling a bit tired but generally OK before sharp pains started shooting all down my left leg. This resulted in me limping the last 5km over a 45 min period brining me over the finish line at around 2:29.

To say that it was hurting at the end is an understatement (see above photographic evidence of me just over the finish line). This was, by far, the most pain I have been in after a half marathon! I guess not too surprisingly.

Despite this third failure our fundraising efforts once again provide the silver lining. 22 people donated a total of £332.69 to the African Palliative Care Association (You can still donate to this exceptionally good cause by clicking here).

So thank you to each and every one of you who donated!

And there it is, my running career, how I am slowly becoming a ‘specialist in failure’ and a few hints and tips on how not to prepare for an run a half marathon!

The only question remaining is…have I got one more in me? Will I manage to run a half marathon, sober, fit and well prepared?

Maybe.

 

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The difference between Suarez and Balotelli

This is an article I wrote for the newly re-launched new-look ‘Tattooed Football’ site.  

suarez
Others, far better qualified than myself, have written at length about the similarities between Suarez and Balotelli. The ‘issues’ around their behaviour patterns have been examined, re-examined, and talked about to death. All in just 24 hours of the news breaking that Balotelli will be joining Suarez’s former team for just (and I used the word just loosely) £16 million.

It seems only right then that I take a few moments to write in defence of Suarez by highlighting what sets him apart from Balotelli.

To start though I must first clarify, I am no cheerleader for Suarez. I think he is an egotist and a fool – albeit a talented one. I was vocal in condemning him for his racism, his weird biting habit (3 times now – that we know of), and stated clearly that I thought it would be a disaster for Arsenal if they signed him – like the striker had hoped.

What sets Suarez apart from Balotelli (who has a similar, if slightly more ludicrous, list of indiscretions) is that despite all his flaws you knew that he would work hard for whichever team he was playing for that day. At the heart of Suarez is a footballer and an exceptionally good one at that.

The same, fundamentally, cannot be said for Balotelli. The man seems to perform on his own agenda, his own timeframe and almost entirely removed from any managerial guidance.

In a CNN interview Jose Mourinho famously recalled a suitable anecdote from his time at Inter Milan to illustrate this point:

“I remember one time when we went to play Kazan in the Champions League. In that match I had all my strikers injured. No Diego Milito, no Samuel Eto’o, I was really in trouble and Mario was the only one. Mario got a yellow card in the 42nd minute, so when I got to the dressing room at half-time I spend about 14 minutes of the 15 available speaking only to Mario.

“I said to him: ‘Mario, I cannot change you, I have no strikers on the bench, so don’t touch anybody and play only with the ball. If we lose the ball no reaction. If someone provokes you, no reaction, if the referee makes a mistake, no reaction.’

“The 46th minute – red card!”

The game is, and always will be, about Balotelli. Suarez’s selfish moments could be, at times, crippling but overall Suarez looked to be a team player. With Balotelli it is almost like the opposite is true – that he is basically there for himself but at times he has flashes of brilliance that can redeem weeks, months or even years of bad attitude, stupidity and selfishness.

What Liverpool fans must come to terms with is that their team has just purchased Balotelli. All you’re getting is him, nothing more nothing less. You’re getting someone who has the talent to be one of the best players of a generation but none of the hard work, commitment and mental focus that is required to get there.

Liverpool’s gamble is that they think – for some unknown, or yet to be proven, reason – that they can install this in him.

So, if you’re wondering how Liverpool managed to pick him up for just £16 million, a fraction of what the player should surely be now worth, it is because there is only a fraction of a chance that he will slot into the Liverpool team, only a fraction of a chance that Brenden Rogers will be able to do what other great managers have failed to do and control him, and only a fraction of a chance that this signing will be about Liverpool rather than the on-going Balotelli show.

In light of this ‘just £16 million’ suddenly seems like little more than an expensive gamble taken in the turmoil aftermath of the unwanted departure of Suarez.

Only time will tell if this gamble will pay off.

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2014 Banff Mountain Film Festival comes to Kampala

The Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour is being held in Kampala Uganda at the National Theater on the evenings of the 2nd and 9th September 2014. The tour consists of an incredible collection of short adventure films from across the world.

You can buy your tickets from the theater box office.

Not convinced yet?

Check out this preview:

See you there!

BANFF

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In praise of Wenger and his 1000 games in charge

So, things didn’t quite go to plan for Arsenal or Arsene Wenger at the weekend. Everyone at the club was hoping for a victory against title rivals Chelsea to mark Wenger’s 1000th game in charge…

Instead this happened:

6-0-Chelsea-Scoreboard

Combine this with a red card early on in the game and you can appreciate why I said…things didn’t quite go to plan.

As you can imagine, the press went to town:

The Mirror asked its readers ‘Will Wenger ever win the league again?’ after speculating why Wenger may have missed his Monday press conference.

The BBC simply states: ‘Arsenal boss faces criticism after 1,000th game‘.

The Metro holds no punches with its headline: ‘Arsene Wenger must go as embarrassing Arsenal drop out the Premier League title race‘.

It was this last headline that got to me the most though. To have a manager of Wenger’s ability and consistency and call for his sacking is…well…fucking stupid.

Think of it this way.

Sir Alex…one of the greatest managers to have graced the Premier League. He retired last season and departed with the words of pundits describing him as one of the greatest manager’s in English football. A completely fair accolade.

So let’s compare the two…

Games Wins Draws Losses For Against Win %
Arsene Wenger 1,000 572 235 193 1845 967 57.3
Sir Alex Ferguson 1,000 564 248 188 1784 944 56.4

Wenger has secured a win rate of 57.3%. Sir Alex 56.4%.

This is not to try and suggest one is better than the other, but to illustrate that we are talking about 2 of the all time greats in the game.

The only difference is that one is still a manager and Arsenal are lucky enough to have him while sadly Sir Alex is now retired.

If you need further convincing of just how lucky Arsenal are to still have Wenger, just glance over at Old Trafford now to see how they are getting on without Sir Alex!

No trophies…Wenger has lost it in recent years…blah blah blah…

At this stage his critics suggest that he should go because since 2005, he hasn’t got the same performace out of his players or attracted the same talent…

Well, where to start?

Wenger’s 1,000 games in charge gave him a win rate of 57.3%. In the first 500 games this stood at 57.8% and in his second 500 at 56.6%.

The observant among you will notice that this win rate for his second 500 games in charge is still higher than Sir Alex’s average. You will also notice an incredible consistency across the two halves of his time at Arsenal.

Find me another manager who has qualified for the Champions League for 16 consecutive seasons!

Then lets look at the ‘not attracting talent’ argument…well, there was of course Ozil, Carzola, Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlin, Arteta, Mertesacker (all in the last 3 seasons) to name but a few.

The issue here then is not that Wenger does not win games,or that he doesn’t attract big names, but that Arsenal too often buckle in the big games. But this is another blog for another day…

For now, I’m happy to leave it that Arsenal are lucky to have one of the greatest managers in the game and anyone stupid enough to call for his sacking must be able to have a good answer to this question:

What next? Who do you think could get Arsenal performing better than Wenger?

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Talk by adventurer Julian Monroe Fisher in Kampala. 27th Feb 2014

The Mountain Club of Uganda (MCU) are putting on a FREE talk by the world renowned adventurer, Julian Monroe Fisher. The talk will be at 7:30 in Athina Club in Kololo, Kampala.

Please do share this event with friends and family.

Hopefully see you there.

Talk

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Google pins its rainbow colours to the mast

googleOver a billion people visit Google every day. Today they will be met by Google’s protest over the violations of gay rights in Russia as the Winter Olympics get underway.

In case the rainbow doodle left you in any doubt, Google then quote the Olympic Charter underneath that states that “every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport without discrimination of any kind”.

Left Foot Forward today have given us ‘5 good reasons why LGBT activists are protesting against Russia‘ – many of which result in the Olympic Charter being little more than an aspiration for an openly gay athletes in Russia.

Google were joined by Channel 4 who also turned their logo rainbow for the day. The TV channel stated that they wanted to wish good luck to all athletes competing at the Games – gay or straight.

Channel 4 rainbow logo for Sochi Winter Olympics
Hynd’s Blog tips its metaphorical hat to Google, Channel 4 and the transformative power of sport.

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On Thomas Hitzlsperger, the FA and homophobia in football

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Thomas Hitzlsperger, the former Germany International and Everton footballer has today announced that he is homosexual in an interview with the German newspaper Die Zeit.

I have written before, most recently with diver Tom Daley as the case in point, about the importance of having men and women in the public eye being open and honest about their sexuality. I won’t rehash that article again here.

The point here is an additional one – the impact that Hitzlsperger’s decision may have on his former colleagues -including those in the FA.

In his interview Hitzlsperger stated that part of his reasoning of coming out was “to further the debate about homosexuality among sports professionals”. An admirable aim and a decision that I am sure will impact on players who are considering also coming out.

It is in this light that his decision will have immeasurable ripples – imagine if a current player no longer feels so isolated and decides to come out. Who knows how much of a game changer his decision might turn out to be.

The Premier League is watched and loved by millions all around the world, but it is still bereft of any openly gay footballer. To reiterate this – out of the 25 players in the 20 teams that play in the Premier League, not a single player is openly gay. 0 out of 500 players. This has held true (with varying squad sizes) for the entire history of top-flight football in the UK.

This then begs the question – why? Why has no playing professional ever been able to be open about their sexuality?

Hitzlsperger described the long “difficult process” of coming out. Something which the openly gay sports journalist Musa Okwonga talks more about here.

This process, even when surrounded by support, can be a challenging one. When surrounded by vitriol and hatred, the likes of which can too often be found in the stands, changing rooms and board rooms of British football, this process can transform into a goliath challenge.

It is interesting that Hitzlsperger specifically mentions in the interview that it is “it was not always easy to sit on a table with 20 young men and listen to jokes about gays”. A comment which hopefully all players will take on board.

But this homophobic banter is not just found in the dressing rooms.

One the hardest hitting sections from Graeme Le Saux’s autobiography was not the childish homophobic taunts Robbie Fowler through at him, the crowds obsessive jeering or even the referee’s despicable reaction of booking Le Saux for time wasting, but the FA’s inability to spot the real issue in the situation – institutionalised homophobia.

It is with a touch of irony then that Hitzlsperger’s announcement comes in the aftermath of the FA’s latest embarrassment – their equality adviser, who on national TV called gays ‘detestable’, resigning from his role.

Michael Johnson, the former Birmingham city defender was appointed to his role, one assumes, because of his stellar track record of tackling racism. It is a damning indictment that no one in the FA looked into his views on other pressing equality issues such as homophobia.

John Amaechi, the first former NBA player to come out in public in 2007, hit the nail on the head when he commented:

“the reason that homophobia, antisemitism, racism and other misogyny continue to blight football is that the FA does not understand how to tackle it. You don’t put one person to handle racism and a gay person for homophobia, you pick people who understand that all bigotry is the same monster.”

Today, hopefully, Hitzlsperger will have highlighted to the FA the need to act and to stop letting homophobia be what he referred to as “an ignored issue” in football.

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Bristol City FC fan: Why I am bored of this Board

This is a blogging debut from one of my best friends and a life-long Bristol City fan looking at how the club has lurched from one crisis to another under the current Board.

BCFCSaturday 24 May 2008. My beloved football team and lifelong passion, Bristol City, are 90 minutes away from the Premier League after an incredible debut season in the Championship under Gary Johnson.

Tuesday 3rd December 2013. City sit bottom-but-one of League One, 2 points adrift of safety, and without a manager. Hull City, the opponents 5 years earlier on that sunny afternoon at Wembley, have just beaten Liverpool 3-1, and lie in the top half of the Premier League.

In 5 and a half years, Bristol City have lurched from one crisis to another. They have fumbled their way through a farcical process in attempting to acquire a new stadium of their own at Ashton Vale and wasted millions of pounds on journeyman players and managerial sackings.

Steve Coppell lasted 2 games before walking out in 2009, being replaced by Keith Millen, a man deemed not ready for the manager’s job at the time of Coppell’s appointment 3 months earlier. City spent the next 3 years battling relegation, using 3 managers in the process; Millen, Derek McInnes, and the most recent incumbent Sean O’Driscoll, before being relegated in May with barely a whimper.

Lansdown Senior is still the owner, but no longer chairman, and now lives in Guernsey. The club is £40 million in debt to him, and he’s decided there is to be no more rash spending.

He has entrusted Keith Dawe and his son, Jon Lansdown, with running the club. Dawe, as chairman, hasn’t ever given a press interview and isn’t comfortable in front of a camera. Jon Lansdown, apart from being the owner’s son and now vice-chairman, has no experience in the football industry, but has been tasked with being the public face of the club.

In Steve Lansdown’s time at the club there has been one successful managerial appointment – Gary Johnson.

O’Driscoll, however, seemed a good fit for City on paper. However, his record over his 10 months in charge read 11 wins from 40 matches in charge before being dismissed last Thursday.

Supporters are split on O’Driscoll’s dismissal. I admit he had a very tough job on his hands and worked hard to implement his own philosophy, but his record on the pitch, where it really matters, was abysmal. Also, his downbeat, prickly demeanour didn’t endear himself to a large portion of the fanbase.

The real concern for me, and many City fans, is who we appoint next. The board HAS to get this one right. Dropping into the bottom division for the first time since 1984 seems unthinkable, but it’s a distinct possibility.

The favourite for the job is former Cheltenham Town, Portsmouth and Nottingham Forest boss, and friend of Dawe, Steve Cotterill.  The same Steve Cotterill who sought O’Driscoll’s help as his number two at Forest midway through his tenure while Forest were on a 648-minute goal drought – you couldn’t make it up!

A support base that is desperately in need of some inspiration and something to get excited about could well end up being rewarded with a man who has achieved little since his success at Cheltenham and has a reputation for direct, dour football.

In a poll taken on the club’s main fans’ forum, the potential appointment of Cotterill gives the following results. ‘Yes please’: 5%; ‘I don’t have any strong feelings either way’: 26%; ‘No thanks!’: 68%. Hardly a ringing endorsement.

The Club’s Supporters’ Trust is so concerned about the next appointment it has today released a statement pleading with the board to “take time to ensure that the new head coach is the right choice”.

This really is last-chance saloon for Steve Lansdown and his band of merry men. Lifelong fans are staying away from games, home and away, worn out from years of struggle and lifeless performances on the pitch.

With a bit of fortune, we may stumble upon the right man – the law of averages says we are due some luck – but what the club needs to do now is bring in someone who will give the fans a bit of hope and inspiration.

Forget the stadium Steve and put a decent wedge towards attracting a manager of some calibre that can stabilise this sinking ship, because you won’t fill the ground in League Two.

My suggestion: get Neil Warnock signed on a short-term contract to keep us up, and tap into his knowledge to find the right man for the long-term in the summer.

If you can’t get this appointment right, then please put the club up for sale to the highest bidder and let someone else have a go.

Surely they couldn’t do much worse.

 

UPDATE:

Editor adds: Bristol City have now announced a press conference for 11:00am this morning. Fans have reacted with varying degrees of dismay:

https://twitter.com/BatsonRobin/status/407784952106057728

https://twitter.com/BigDave3109/status/407783628006232064

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Olympic diver Tom Daley is bisexual – so what?

Tom_Daley_2752191b
“So fucking what” is the chime of millions of people around the UK responding to news that Tom Daley is ‘in a relationship with a man’.

Within this ‘so fucking what’ camp of thinkers are the casual homophobes, those who see sex and love as private affairs and those who just don’t care very much about someone who can be involved with a programme as bad as Splash.

But of course it does matter. It shouldn’t, but it does.

On the fickle surface of it all you could argue that it matters because millions of people will watch his youtube video, because tomorrow’s papers will be filled with this story or because it will somehow help to break down lingering prejudice against a huge minority of people that don’t fit into the UK’s institutionalised heteronormative culture.

This is of course true, but more importantly than any of this is something probability suggests is currently taking place…

Somewhere in UK there is a young girl or boy that has been struggling with their own sexuality. What they feel comes from inside them, their heart, and they’re increasingly coming to realise that this is part of them for better or for worse. It both excites them but also strikes a note of fear through them.

At the same time, they live their lives surrounded by systematic tacit vitriol. Every day they go to school and hear homophobic banter that teachers fail to pick up on let alone punish. A few mates, who were brave enough to come out still experience bullying and harassment. Although it has died down in recent months, they still overhear comments about the “batty boy” and “stupid dyke”.

In the church they are told this feeling resting in their hearts is a sin, at the football ground they’re told it’s disgusting and in the papers it is at best, gossip.

The reality of their own internal feelings seem to be at odds to their surroundings.

But, in the midst of this, a widely loved sports personality manages to be open and honest about his sexuality. Despite the torrent of abuse that flows on twitter as inevitably as the coming of the seasons, Tom Daley has the love and support of his family, friends and literally millions of people all around the world.

The prospect of a life that allows for honesty, happiness and passion is illustrated before their eyes. If Tom’s loving father responded with the words, “As long as you’re happy, I’m happy” then the possibility of their own father responding with such warmth somehow feels more real.

A positive future, despite everything, is painted in front of them. For the first time in their lives they have, not so much a role model, as an illustration that it’s possible…to love someone of the same gender and be happy.

The simple fact is this, when you are raised surrounded by such vitriol, the faintest glimpses of such happiness can make the world of difference. Today Tom Daley has offered a gigantic wave of hope to millions.

And that is, at least in part, why it matters. Because in the words of Graeme Archer writing in the Telegraph, Tom “just did a beautiful thing

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Learning to kayak the Nile

Waves crashes over the front of the kayak. All around, white water sprays up into the air. The relative calm of the flat-water section that follows this 100 meter long rapid seems like a long way off. Every wave that hits the side of the kayak holds the potential to knock this novice kayaker out of the boat and into the white-water. A few minutes later, the perilous waves that were surrounding the kayak are replaced. Now, all around are the ecstatic grins of the other first time white-water kayakers who have just completed the grade three rapid, aptly named, ‘Jaws’. This is just day one of the introduction to white-water kayaking course on the river Nile in Uganda run by Kayak the Nile.

Located a few kilometres to the north of Jinja, arguably the adventure tourism capital of East Africa, the Bujagali Lake offers a more tranquil start to the beginners learning experience. This large section of flat-water provides a picturesque area for first-time paddlers to practice their kayaking skills. The course begins with an introduction to basic kayaking techniques as well as safety and rescue techniques.

The credentials for the instructors passing on their knowledge couldn’t be higher. Out on the water on this morning offering instruction was Emily Wall, two times British Champion.  Perhaps more importantly than her experiences of competing at the highest levels of freestyle kayaking though, is Emily’s patience and obvious enthusiasm for teaching beginners.

Photo by Sim Davis

Out on the water, metaphors are used liberally to explain the movement and science behind kayaking. Whether it is through skiing or surfing Emily finds an analogy that relates to each of the would-be kayakers. Joanna Reid, a British nurse volunteering in Uganda, said after the session that, “Emily was world class and has a gift for teaching. She always made us feel safe. It was Emily and the team that made the day really enjoyable…”

But it’s not just the instructors who make learning to kayak at the source of the Nile special.

To start with, the water is dam released, making the rapids accessible, fun and relatively predictable 365 days a year. Every day you can expect an impressive 1600 cumecs meaning that you know you will have big volume rapids to learn on.

Secondly, the average monthly temperature in Uganda varies by less than two degrees meaning that most days you can expect the temperature to rise to the high twenties, but significantly, little more!

In short, it’s always shorts and t-shirt weather and not wet suits.

Lastly, the range of rapids on the river offers everything from grade 1 to grade 6 with an almost infinite number of lines into the rapids. With the right instructor there really is something for everyone, regardless of confidence and ability levels.

Explaining why she chose the Nile as her home for teaching kayaking, Emily said, “I have kayaked across five continents, yet I’ve chosen to call the Nile home because of the awesome training ground it provides for kayakers of all levels. The white water we have here on the Nile is unique; not only are the rapids warm and deep (with no rocks or crocs), the sun shines and the water flows all year around!”

Photo by Emily Wall

Photo by Emily Wall

In the afternoon then, the beginners head out to explore what this ‘training ground’ downstream of Bujagali Lake has to offer. Of course, fresh faced kayakers are not thrown straight into a grade three rapids. Most of the afternoon is spent practising breaking in and out of fast flowing water (and invariably putting rescue and swimming skills to practice).

But, as the afternoon draws on so the sense of excitement in the groups grows. The group of first-time white water kayakers paddle to a few hundred meters short of the ‘Jaws’ rapids. The river’s immediate horizon has spouts of white water kicking above it and there is the unmistakable sound of water crashing against rocks. Emily, with an ever calming voice gives the internally good advice, “whatever happens, stay calm”. Before adding, “Just keep an active paddle in the water and you’ll be fine”. And that was that.

With a healthy dose of luck and everyone vehemently following Emily’s suggested line through the rapids every learner kayaker comes out of the rapids the other end. Most, if not all, of them are still in their kayaks. But everyone, without exception, has the unmistakable grin on of someone who might have just stumbled across their new passion, white-water kayaking.

Photo by Emily Wall

Photo by Emily Wall

More information:

Visit: www.kayakthenile.com/
Follow: www.twitter.com/kayakthenile
Email: Info@kayakthenile.com

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Filed under Outdoors, Politics, Sport, Travel, Uganda

Does Jack Wilshere think Mo Farah should only race for Somalia…and Bradley Wiggins for Belgium?

If I went to Spain and lived there for five years, I’m not going to play for Spain. For me an English player should play for England

At first glance, this seems an innocuous comment about players born outside of England from the Arsenal and England midfielder Jack Wilshere.  On closer inspection though it leads us down a slippery slope of how we understand our national identity.

Firstly, it is worth pulling out the footballing implications of his comments. It would have resulted in players such as John Barnes (Jamaica born), Matt Le Tissier (Guernsey born), Owen Hargreaves (Canada born) all being excluded from our national team.

But this obviously goes so much further than football. It shows how we understand someone’s chances of being truly accepted in England when they have been born abroad. Jack’s comments essentially say that whatever your circumstances, reasons for coming to England, you can never truly be “English” unless you were lucky enough to be born here.

This attitude, when taken to its logical ends results in the most barbaric of conclusions. Allow me to illustrate.

In 2002 Austin Moses, and his wife Josephine, were killed in northern Nigeria. They were both active parts of the minority Christian community who had been facing increased levels of persecution and violence since the imposition of Sharia Law two years earlier.

Their son, Victor Moses, was orphaned at the age of 11.

One week later Victor, paid for by his family, arrived in the UK and claimed asylum and was granted refugee status.

3 years later Victor scored 50 goals in one season for Crystal Palace’s under 14s team. A year after that he was selected to represent England’s under 16s. He then proceeded to play for England at under 17s, 18s and 21s. He then chose to play for Nigeria.

Now, the question for Jack is this – should Victor have been banned from representing England because he was not born in the UK? If so, would you have expected him to play for Nigeria in the years after fleeing for his life or would you have denied him the chance to play international football as a youngster?

Any person with an ounce of compassion would say that of course he should be able to play for England!

But as I already stated, this isn’t just about football. It is about saying that Englishness is far more complicated than simply where you were born.

But then again we wouldn’t want the likes of Bradley Wiggins (born in Belgium) or Mo Farah (born in Somalia) representing us now would we….

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Filed under Football, Human rights, Sport

Arrivederci Di Canio, Arrivederci fascism

Sunderland have sacked Di Canio. I am delighted. Let me explain why.

For about 21 months I had on and off discussions with a mate of mine who is a passionate Swindon Town fan and someone I’ve got a lot of respect for. It went something like:

Me: “Paulo Di Canio is a fascist…I think you should boycott Swindon until they get rid of him”.

My mate: “You’re political belief shouldn’t determine your job prospect, anyway – he will be great for the club”.

Me: “It’s like saying that football is more important than opposing fascism – anyway, if he is good for the club it will be a side show to what is good for PDC.”

My mate: “We’ve just been promoted.”

After his 21 months in charge my mate was unchanged about his view that politics and football shouldn’t mix but did concede that he has now:

“lost all respect for Di Canio… (Breaking into the offices, making ultimatums to a Board that did not even have control of the club and airing our dirty washing in public)… but this is due to his actions… as opposed to his views and ideologies”

A year or so later, I wonder how many Swindon fans can honestly say that they miss him?

When he joined Sunderland I reiterated my call for fans to boycott Sunderland.  Inevitably Sunderland fans (already angered by days of hostile media coverage) reacted with anger to what they saw as another anti-Di Canio article. Their fans forum shows I made few friends with that article.

Within this call to boycott Sunderland I once again made the dual argument. 1) It is a fan’s moral imperative to make a stand against fascist beliefs within their club and community. 2) Sunderland’s results would suffer. Di Canio would not bring the salvation SAFC needed and would, in the long term, be as bad for the club on the pitch as he is off.

As you can imagine, both points were swiftly rejected in the aftermath of their 3-0 drumming of Newcastle. A selection of the comments from that article and on the fans forum included:

Jason Reveley’s confessions of love:

“I am in love with Paolo Di Canio. I think he will save Sunderland AFC and turn us into a top 10 club”

Ron’s selected character assesment:

“apart from his sometimes eccentric behaviour on the field, no one has ever flagged up any problems with him off the field” (I add: This was not true at the time of writing and has been shown to be not true this season at Sunderland).

And in addition a wide range of petty insults that are endemic within fan forums (most showing a questionable preoccupation with sexual innuendo).

Since then Di Canio has overseen 1 point from 5 games. His own players have been reported to be central to his dismissal. It was reported that after another defeat Lee Cattermole, the midfielder he stripped of the captaincy, told Di Canio that the squad had lost faith in his “controversial methods”. This then went to the Board who made the final decision.

But as important as Sunderland’s form is, for me it pales into insignificance compared to my deep-rooted belief that fascism has no place in football. This is not to say I support a ban of any sorts but that I have a faith in fans ability to articulate a collective voice that says we want what is best for our club and our community and that this cannot involve employing someone with such fascist views.

At this point it is important to be clear by what I mean when I say fascism (something Di Canio failed to do).

Fascism is an ideology that has been illustrated through a series of brutal historical examples (Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Suharto etc). Dr Lawrence Britt broke down the characteristics of fascism into 14 ideas that ranged from a “Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts” to a “Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights”.

There is nothing within these characteristics that I support and taken collectively you get a cocktail of beliefs that is abhorrent and they are unacceptable. It is this poisonous cocktail that I fight so hard to keep out of my club and my community.

As a result I still stand by my argument that if my club tried to employ someone with fascist beliefs I would boycott them. In light of this I would call on other supporters to do the same. I hope Sunderland fans will join me and get behind this call.

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A letter to Paolo Di Canio

Dear Paolo,

As a man who loves football and has an undoubted passion for success I am sure that Sunderland’s slow start to the season must be difficult for you to take. One point out of a possible 12 and sitting at the bottom of the league…that must be painful for you.

I am sure you don’t need some blogger reminding you of this though. Anyone who watches you on the touchline knows that you feel every moment, every mistake and every result. You’re a divisive character but I don’t think anyone doubts your passion.

I am worried though that your passionate personality, the very thing that drives you forward, the thing that earns you masked respect, might also be acting as a blinker to how you understand life in the Premiership.

You see Paolo, the more I think about it the more I think you might not be suited to life in the Premier League at all.

You seem to hold an attitude that was maybe once true but certainly isn’t anymore – that the individual player is of no importance compared to the team, the collective, the community. Many, especially fans, still hold this to be true but most successful managers don’t.

When you substitute players for not performing minutes into games you stand in contrast to every other manager. When you publically humiliate your players (even your captain isn’t immune) you undermine yourself, your players and yes…also your club.

This trait, although problematic is only amplified with the inconsistency in which you implement it.

You seem to be the one exception to the rule that you so fiercely apply to others. You, whether consciously or sub-consciously, seem to constantly make yourself bigger than any club you enter – this was certainly true for Swindon and I wonder if it is any different now you’re at Sunderland?

Was arguing with the referee and then asking to be sent to the stands the best thing for the team against Arsenal? I suspect not. You did what was right for you…not the team!

When it suits you, the team is secondary to your personality. While you demand near anonymity from your players, you yourself put on a showmanship unmatched by any other over-inflated ego within the Premiership.

Whether you like it or not Paolo, players in other clubs are thriving under the spotlight of the individual. You are, in the words of your own players, risking killing their confidence.

Letting individuals flourish has to be balanced with what is right for the team but simply stomping down players egos to make a pedestal for yourself just isn’t sustainable for you, your players or your club.

Now Paolo, I am really sorry but I have to raise your now denied assertion that you’re a fascist (at some point Paolo I would love you to explain to the world what you understand a fascist to be). I believe you when you say you’re not a racist (I have no reason not to) but I think there is a part of you that does identify with fascism.

Exactly what you mean by being a fascist I don’t know. But a common feature of fascism is the disregard of the individual, the belief in the importance of the collective. As we have already discussed, this is something of a trait in your personality.

Equally, it seemed to be a bit of issue for Mussolini, the man who you have a tribute to tattooed onto your arm and whose face is tattooed onto your back. He said, “Anti-individualistic, the Fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State”.

Exact definitions vary but most understandings of fascism include this dangerous disregard for the individual.

Is it a coincidence that your “unique” managerial style also overlaps with the ideology you have been so consistently linked with?

Back when you first joined Sunderland I wrote that at best you will stay quiet but at worse you would let your poisonous ideology seep through and let it affect how you managed the football team.

Paolo, I am deeply troubled that I think we are seeing glimpses of your fascist ideology seeping into your managerial style. However much you try to disassociate yourself, your political views are impacting Sunderland. You already have war veterans boycotting your games.

Your presence is casting a dark stain, not just over the Stadium of Light but the whole Premiership.

Paolo, I know you’re not one to give up, to quit, to crumble to the status quo…but have you ever thought that you might not be suited to life in the Premiership? That maybe, the tolerant, individualistic, liberal nature of the modern game might not be conducive to your beliefs and managerial style?

For what it’s worth, my advice is simple. Take to the stands where your passion will be appreciated without leaving lasting damage on the club.

I am sure the ultras at Lazio will welcome you back with open (saluted) arms.

This I believe would be what is best for your players, for your club and even the league in which you currently compete.

Steve Hynd

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I will always wear a cycling helmet but should government force people to?

The debate about whether or not wearing a cycling helmet should be compulsory is once again raging. This time, the catalyst for the debate is the heart wrenching story of Ryan Smith who is now lying in a coma after being knocked off his bike. His father has made a plea to parents to ensure kids wear a helmet.

But, what seems like common sense (wearing a helmet saves lives in the same way wearing a motorbike helmet does and so should be compulsory as well) is more contentious than it might first seem.

The cycling charity, CTC, makes the point:

“Given that the health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks by around 20:1 (one recent study put it at 77:1), it can be shown that only a very small reduction in cycle use is needed for helmet promotion (let alone helmet laws) to shorten more lives than helmets themselves could possibly save, regardless of how effective helmets might be.”

Essentially, it is saying when Ryan’s father publically talks about the importance of helmets – he’s making people less safe…I assume they would say the same for other people speaking out about helmet use (for example the wife of James Cracknell after his near fatal accident).

A study in the British Medical Journal however shows that:

“helmets reduced the risk by 63-88% for head, brain, and severe brain injury among cyclists of all ages.”

The road safety charity, BRAKE, supports this saying:

“Last year, over 17,000 cyclists were injured on UK roads with over 2,500 killed or seriously injured. The vast majority of these deaths and serious injuries were the result of a head injury. This is precisely why many of our international and European partners have already introduced compulsory helmet wearing,”

These, initially contradictory statements have fuelled a debate that divides cyclists, journalists and politicians alike.

All this evidence though seems to be pointing in the same direction – against the legal enforcement of wearing a helmet, and towards the incentivising of helmet use. It is difficult to believe CTC’s claim that appropriately constructed promotion campaigns would significantly put people off from cycling and as such make people less safe.

There seems to be no shortage of steps that could be taken.

Currently in the UK, a reasonable helmet for a commuter will cost around £30 (for example – this Lazer introductory sports helmet).  I couldn’t find any studies to show cost to helmet use ratios, but anecdotally I can say that I cycled for 3 months in London without a helmet because I lost my old one and at the time couldn’t afford a new one. I would be surprised if there was no correlation there.

Equally there are a host of other measures that could be dreamed up to promote the use of helmets ranging from school curriculum to better helmet storage facilities (when you lock your bike up somewhere you normally have to carry your helmet around with you).

Would having somewhere safe to store your helmet really put people off cycling?

But, to a certain extent, these arguments miss the point. What makes cycling safe or unsafe, primarily is not about what gear you’re wearing but where you are cycling. In cities for example that have physically separated cycle routes, the number of accidents reduce massively.

The flip side of this is of course that badly designed roads massively increase cycle accidents. For example, evidence shows that multi-lane roundabouts act as a death trap for cyclists (anecdotally I cannot help but to think of Elephant and Castle in support of this). This study concluded saying:

“Evidence is beginning to accumulate that purpose-built bicycle-specific facilities reduce crashes and injuries among cyclists, providing the basis for initial transportation engineering guidelines for cyclist safety. Street lighting, paved surfaces, and low-angled grades are additional factors that appear to improve cyclist safety.”

Reading these studies feels like it is just adding weight to common sense. But then again, wearing a helmet also seems like common sense.

Cyclists are safer in large numbers and people only get on a bike when they feel safe. Forcing people to wear helmets will not make them feel safe – investing heavily in separated cycle lanes will.

Is this too simplistic a conclusion?

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A new dawn at the Emirates?

This article was originally published on the Tattooed Football

There is a new dawn at Arsenal. In the words of Gazidis this is a new era of “financial firepower”. Arsenal are fighting it out with the big boys, not just in the transfer market but, for the 17th consecutive season, the Champions League.  Could this be the season that Arsenal live up to their potential?

Of course bloody not!

Arsene+Wenger+at+AGMSelf-delusion is something central to a diehard 21st century Gooner. No more so than for Gooner-in-chief, Le Professor, Monsieur Wenger.

Despite the talk, the promises, the expectations, what do Arsenal have to show from the transfer window…a free transfer from Auxerre in the form of ‘next big thing’ Yaya Sanogo. He is a classic Wenger signing, off everyone’s radar apart from Wenger’s. Why? Because he shows promise, he shows talent, he might just be, to coin a phrase, ‘the next big thing’ (where have we heard that before)?

For all the talk of signing a racist Uruguayan (can’t see that one going wrong) Wenger is still dangerously close to not making the signing that everyone (literally everyone) says he needs.

Despite the demands from the terraces, the back pages and the pundits, Wenger is dangerously close to coming out of the transfer market essentially empty handed. Depressingly, you can picture him now at the first press conference of the season, brow furled, “my squad is strong enough, and they have a good mental attitude. I am sure we can win”.

Of course, the media focus on the (yet to materialise) centre forward misses the point. Arsenal are missing a solid centre back. I cannot believe that Steve Bould cannot see that. Oh and of course Arsenal could also do with a new goal keeper, left back and someone confident playing left wing.  But these are just side issues I am sure….

And so, they stumble ahead (the talk of unbeaten pre-season out of the window at the Emirates Cup), with Wenger defiant, proud and to the outsider, confident. The fans are still behind Wenger but they’re also still asking the same questions that hung over the squad at the end of last season– is there the strength, depth, spark, talent? Does anyone expect anything other than a scrap for 4th place?

Although talk of a mutiny is overstated the feeling of discontent grows within the emirates with every season where the trophy cabinet is left empty.

There is an irony of being the only top four club with the same manager as last season and yet simultaneously the club that seems most on edge, most likely to drop out of the top four, and most likely to fail to pick up any silverware.

The fans are calling for a big name player to be brought in but this will only be of any significance if, as Gazidis suggests, it marks a new era of “financial firepower” at Arsenal. Without this firepower, Arsenal, with all the managerial skill in the world, will not be able to keep pace with the big boys.

It is not just the 2013/14 season that depends on this but the entire future of the club.

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Filed under Economics, Football, Sport

The Russia Winter Olympics: To boycott or not to boycott

“The victim’s naked body had been dumped in a courtyard in the city of Volgograd. His skull was smashed and he had been raped with beer bottles.”

This is from the latest news report that I have read describing another reportedly homophobic brutal murder in Russia. Sadly, this incident is not an isolated one. It fits into a much wider picture of discrimination and prejudice. A report  from ILGA –Europe measuring everything from hate crime to family recognition found that Russia was the hardest country in Europe in which to be homosexual.

In addition, this summer saw the passing of a law banning, “gay propaganda”. The list of human rights concerns for the LGBT population of Russia could go on and on.

In the past few weeks however, this long-standing blight has been hurtled into the consciousness of the western liberal mind.  The hook of the winter Olympics and the ever contentious issue of boycott has got the chattering classes…well chattering.

For myself, I don’t know what I think about the proposed boycott (although I feel quite comfortable condemning the above mentioned and other human rights abuses).

And so, I thought I would draw your attention to some of the more interesting things I have read and let you make up your own mind. In the meantime, hopefully this process will hopefully help me make up my mind.

No shortage of opinions but still not sure what mine is!

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Filed under Human rights, Russia, Sport

After 77 Years, Murray and England rule

*cough cough* England rule? Well so thought the New York Times as they ran the above headline.

Sadly, their sub-editor changed it before I could take a screen shot. But, ever on the ball, James Ball from the Guardian took one.

As my friend Gabriel Raeburn commented, ‘Bloody Canadians’.

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Murray – my entire generation needs you to win.

Born in the 80s, an entire generation has grown up in sporting misery. Each one of these Oasis listening losers (myself included) is now looking to Murray with the same mindless optimism with which they looked at any other Brit that showed the slightest ounce of talent.

My generation – the born in the 80s but wore anoraks in the 90s – can summarise our childhoods with the combined images of Gareth Southgate holding his head in hands after his meekly side-footed catastrophe in 96 and Tim Henman’s year-in-year-out almost success. We are a whole generation for whom sporting life is defined by huge potential and then inevitable failure.

Tim Henman for example, once a household name in the 90’s with an entire hill at Wimbledon named after him is, in the cold harsh light of retrospect, a laughing stock in the commentary box and, in a twist of British self-deprecating humour, a synonym with male inadequacy in the sack (think crashing out at the semi).

But this up-bringing, with all the psychological trauma it entails, has raised an army of Brits marked by mindless optimism.  Against all odds, against anything history dares to teach us – we still aimlessly believe in any Brit (born or bred) that shows the slightest ounce of talent.

Take Steve McClaren and his merry band of over-paid under-performing fuck ups as a case in point.

Back in 2007 we honestly believed that under Steve McClaren we could not only qualify for Euro 2008 but actually do well. I remember being sat in a pub as the reality of not qualifying sunk in. The genuine sense of surprise from those around me was almost laughable. Everyone honestly thought we should, could and would do well. What parallel universe were we living in?

It is with nerve racking anticipation then that we now edge towards the final stages of another major sporting event with a Brit in good shape and looking, very possibly, on course to win. Murray plays the (gulps) semi-final of the men’s singles tonight at Wimbledon.

In a single moment one man has an opportunity to rectify so many wrongs. All those times we have limped off, held our head in our hands, slumped back in our armchairs…they will be confined to books of history rather than the contemporary watershed for our nations sporting success.

Worse of all, I think Murray realises the weight of this mad national psyche that rests on his shoulder. Last year, when Murray memorably broke down in tears while addressing the Centre Court crowd after losing the championship match, he said through his tears, “I’m getting closer.”

It’s bloody heartbreaking.

This army of failure hardened children of Thatcher are this afternoon going to flock to TV screens with an inevitable self-indulgent sense of expectation.

Despite being able to step back and see all this, something in my mind labeled ‘born in the 1980’s and slightly disturbed’ will click in and I too will be there screaming at a TV screen believing, feeling and anticipating every point.

It’s going to be a long weekend, but hey it’s been a long 27 years.

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