Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Ricky Hatton should have quit long ago...

The end of another road for Hatton as Senchenko brings him to his knees in the ninth.

Like many other fighters of his generation, Ricky Hatton should have realised his time in the ring was over – but instead the Manchester boxer met with the blue canvas once more.

After a 48-fight career, the Hitman had become a recognisable household name, reaching the highs and falling to desperate lows, both in and out of the ring.

But when Hatton stepped back into the harsh world of boxing, following a comeback from retirement to fight Ukrainian Vyacheslav Senchenko, he did so with almost every critic doubting his ability, and rightly so.

The 34-year-old may have relished in the roars from his adoring fans as the bout began last Saturday at the Manchester Arena, but even the most diehard of Hatton fans instinctively questioned whether the boxer could rise again.

The only man inside the 20,000-strong packed venue who did believe he could reinvent his youth was the one who wore the blue shorts, etched with Manchester City’s emblem inside the ring – Richard John Hatton.

The Hyde-born boxer had already reached the top of his sport from his rise to fame back in 2005, when the heavy underdog battled to victory to become the IBF Light Welterweight Champion against Kostya Tszyu.

Fast forward two years and four more titles and the Hitman found himself in the Welterweight division preparing for a trip to the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas - facing none other than American champion Floyd Mayweather Jnr.

Although the fight ended in defeat Hatton had made it, before the fight he was an undefeated champion and already one of a kind in British boxing. Thousands of fans travelled to Las Vegas to cheer on the man from Manchester and millions more tuned in via TV from home, this for Hatton was as good as it would get.

However, his defeat to Filipino southpaw Manny Pacquiao in 2009 marked the beginning of the end as depression and alcohol use took control of his life. Boxing had taken its toll on Hatton’s private life and he was right to forget the sport, looking back with pride.

By 2011, Hatton had got things back on track and began work as a boxing promoter, managing a host of promising young fighters. This is where he should have drawn the line. At the age of 34 and with his place fully cemented in the sport’s history, there was nothing more to prove for Ricky.

But like many other ageing fighters, the man who grew up on a Greater Manchester council estate wanted one last shot in ring; he felt he still had demons to put to bed.

He couldn't have been more wrong, it was time to call it a day.

Hatton’s last hurrah was finished brutally - with a powerful body shot from Senchenko that left the Briton wincing on his knees during a ninth-round count out. How many people were winking and nudging the person next to them saying ‘I told you so’?

Ironically, the fighter’s new understudy, youngster Scott Quigg, was on the undercard the same night and became the WBA interim champion with a first knockdown on 32-year-old Rendall Munroe. And the final blow? A body shot.

Champions, such as 35-year-old IBF super-middleweight champion Carl Froch, have proven that if the talent and desire is there then age is just a number. But for a man who has fought much of his career under the media glare like Hatton, it was hard to know when to hang up the gloves and shackle those cravings to do the impossible.

Munroe, the former European and Commonwealth champion, was wise to announce he may retire after the defeat by Quigg.

It is hard not to think that this is something Hatton should have done, a very long time ago.

The rising cost of watching football

Football prices have risen by a staggering rate as the prawn sandwich eaters look to drive away real football fans.

Football bigwigs need to get off their high horses and start remembering who puts their oysters and whiskey on that marble table.

Because today’s news that football prices have risen by nearly 12% in the last year is ALL their fault.

The study by the BBC that looked at 166 football clubs found that only three out of 92 English league clubs offer a day out for less than £20, with clubs like Arsenal charging as much as £126 for a match ticket.

Those in power at our clubs may as well slam the stadium gates in our faces as we arrive - because that is exactly what they are doing by hiking the prices of tickets and monopolising stomach-turning food and drink.

Gone are the days when fans could go and cheer on their favourite side and return with change from a ten-pound note. The BBC may have only looked at prices of the average pie and a cup of tea, but that isn’t where it ends. Profit-hungry owners have also increased prices on burgers, hot dogs and confectionary.

Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis told the BBC: “There are people who want to watch top class football but for whom price is a factor. That is something we have to be continually conscious of."

Well, thanks for your ‘conscious’ concern Ivan, but when will you start putting the fans concerns over your own worries on how much of a pay rise Arsene Wenger will offer you next year? Earlier this month Gazidis scooped a £2million rise. (I kid you not)

It is clear that those that have chosen to buy into the English game are handing over a lot of their own hard-earned cash. But we never asked for them to choose a career as a football VIP, a gleaming job as a lawyer is still out there. Owners must take responsibility; you made your bed, now lie in it.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Can Edgar Davids stamp his mark on the Football League?

Davids was capped for the Netherlands 74 times.

After a glittering career spanning almost twenty years playing at the highest level of world football, veteran Dutch midfielder Edgar Davids has hit the headlines again by announcing a return to the game as player coach at League Two side Barnet.

For me, and indeed many other football fans, Edgar Davids is a man that epitomises that sentimental admiration we still hold deep inside for the players that were viewed as ‘the untouchables’ throughout the footballing word in the 1990s. Players that were plastered in every magazine, all over the television and even on the packaging of the food we ate.

Because of course, the multi-talented midfielder was not just famous for his skills on the pitch. His famous dreadlocks and later protective glasses to guard against glaucoma also made him one of the most recognisable players in the history of the game.

After leaving Ajax in 2008 following a return to the Amsterdam club where he began his career, Davids slowly fizzled out of the limelight for a while. And it wasn’t until 2010 when the Dutchman resurfaced, this time at Crystal Palace on a pay-as-you-play deal that saw him feature in just six games before announcing his retirement at the age of 37.

Two years on from that and the creative midfielder is back at his local football club Barnet. However, it is a world away from the glitz of Ajax, Juventus, Tottenham and AC Milan, with the Bees currently slumped bottom of the League Two table with a mere three points from their first 11 games.

Davids has signed for the London club in a one-year deal as joint coach with current manager Mark Robson. The club’s website revealed that the contract could see Davids deployed to the field of play and said that Davids had ‘expressed a serious intent to become a member of the playing squad.’

With results escaping Barnet at the moment the arrival of a player with such an illustrious career behind him can only boost morale around the club. Davids will not only bring experience, but will also set a fine example to what is a young Barnet side.

Some may argue that his playing days are over, but at what age does the body decide it is too fatigued to compete professionally anymore? If players like Alessandro Del Piero, Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs can still compete at the highest level, then surely Davids can make the fourth-tier of English football look like a walk in the park.

In terms of management the 39-year-old is new, but he does hold an important backlog of knowledge learnt under multiple managers, not just in this country but abroad too. If Davids can transfer his expertise quickly then Barnet will find they have discovered a hidden gem.

However, it may just be another tale of a player who is tired of twiddling his thumbs after leaving the beautiful game. For Barnet’s sake at least, let’s hope Davids is made for management.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Nottingham Forest Season Review 2011/12

The 2011-12 season has proved to be an emotional one for the Reds both on and off the pitch, and although it ultimately led to Forest securing their Championship safety, it was far from a walk in the park for both players and supporters.

The season may fail to rank high in the memory of most Reds fans, and understandably from a campaign that was marred with stumbling blocks and left the club looking all but relegated at one stage. Furthermore it was often hard to hide from the fact that failures on the field of play did at times lead to some hostility amongst the supporters.

In addition, the heartache on the pitch was coupled with the sad passing of Chairman Nigel Doughty in February, leaving a huge void at the City Ground and bringing the financial future of the club into question.

However, spirits did improve at the back end of the season and in turn the squad united under manager Steve Cotterill, who helped the Reds to secure another opportunity at Championship football next season.

A season that began with a play-off semi-final defeat to Swansea still fresh in the minds of many Forest fans was eased slightly with the appointment of Steve McClaren, yielding fresh hope following the departure of Billy Davies.

However, things failed to go quite to plan for the former England boss who managed only two wins during his 111 day stint in the hot seat. McClaren eventually resigned in October with the Reds dangling just a point above the relegation trap-door. And in turn Nigel Doughty stepped down as Chairman after ten years in charge at the City Ground.

Although McClaren made five signings during his time at the club he was criticised for some of the players he decided to bring Trent side, and his most memorable match during his short spell at the helm was the League Cup win over Notts County. McClaren’s best work behind the scenes was acquiring the services of former Reds legend Andy Reid from Blackpool, who later proved a vital cog in the midfield engine.

Former Reds player and manager Frank Clark was appointed the new Chairman by Nigel Doughty and his first job was to appoint Steve Cotterill as boss. Things began brightly for the former Portsmouth manager, not only did he solve the long running left back crisis by bringing in Greg Cunningham on loan from Manchester City, but he also won his first game in charge against Middlesbrough.

Cotterill’s men then went on to move clear of the drop-zone winning three of their next five games. Frontman Marcus Tudgay finding good form at a time when it was vital he did so. But the success failed to be maintained and the Reds soon found themselves victims to a string of seven games without a win or even a goal.

Forest’s New Year began well at the start of 2012 when they ended their dreadful streak with a win at Ipswich, but this proved a blip of good form as they went on to lose to both West Ham and Southampton before a crushing defeat to local rivals Leicester in the FA Cup.

In January it was time for the transfer revolving door to swing into action with Wes Morgan leaving for Leicester and youngster Patrick Bamford securing a dream switch to Chelsea. In the other direction Cotterill secured four loanees; Danny Higginbotham, Adlene Guedioura, George Elokobi and Scott Wootton.

On the 4th February the Reds were shocked by the tragic news of the death of Nigel Doughty, a man who had provided huge financial support to the club saving it from the claws of administration. Tributes were left outside the City Ground and the squad united promising to remain in the division to honour Nigel.

Although the Reds only managed a draw against Watford in a game dedicated to Nigel Doughty, they did grab all three points a week later against Coventry, a match which began the goal-scoring prevalence of a man who would go on to win player of the season – Garath McCleary.

Cotterill’s men then went on to beat Birmingham against the odds with Dexter Blackstock back in goal-scoring form. However, the Reds had what looked to be a hiccup when they were defeated by Doncaster at home before securing a win at Millwall the following week. But fans were left deflated again after the Reds were beaten by a single goal at Pride Park against Derby, despite a closely contested match.

The game that followed was not only the game of the season for the Reds, but also contained the goal of the season, a 7-3 victory away to Leeds at Elland Road finished with McCleary finding himself on the score sheet four times. And the winger did indeed score a couple of great goals, but none quite as sweet as the 30-yard drive from Adlene Guedioura that sailed straight into the top corner, eventually winning the supporters goal of the season award.

Two draws then followed against Brighton at home and at Leicester before a trip to Selhurst Park which led to Radi Majewski having his chance to shine - the Polish midfielder scoring a hat-trick in the 3-0 drubbing. However, the Reds were left with a difficult end to the season after defeat at home to Bristol City left them only four points clear of relegation with five games remaining.

A vital three points away at Peterborough along with a point at home against Blackpool was enough to leave Forest to face a trip to Reading with the chance of being able to secure their league survival. Although they lost the game the Reds put on a fantastic performance and results elsewhere left them mathematically safe.

And the season came to a climax with a poignant game at the City Ground for Steve Cotterill against his former side, the already relegated Portsmouth. Forest ran out 2-0 winners with two Blackstock strikes and the players ended a disappointing season with some fleeting comfort of staying in the Championship.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

"Remember, darkest is before dawn."

Nigel Doughty 1957-2012
 As a Nottingham Forest fan, I have felt many emotions during my countless visits to the City Ground, from the gloom of relegation in 2005, to the ecstasy of promotion in 2008 and the misery of many failed play-off campaigns since. But none of these sensations were quite like the feelings I felt amongst the fans at the City Ground on Saturday.

It was always going to be an emotional day for everyone involved at the club following the unexpected death of Nigel Doughty just last week. But I never quite imagined these emotions would be laid as bare amongst us all, as they were at the weekend.

As the fans poured into the City Ground just before kick-off there was a feeling of solidarity like never before. Many fans gathered to pay their own respects to Nigel beside the Main Stand, and the soft silence there was a poignant tribute to a gentle man who gave his all to the club he loved.

Just walking towards the many tributes left by the Main Stand I myself felt a lump in my throat, the realisation that Nigel had gone had already brought a tear to my eye. Nigel was a man who was from the town I grew up in, a man who had been first of all a fan, and more importantly a loving husband and father. Some would say Nigel had it all, and he certainly deserved it. 

Nigel celebrates with the players following the 2008 promotion to the Championship
 As the fans trickled into the ground I opened the match day programme and began to read Mark Arthur’s piece on Nigel, Mr Arthur was the one who inspired me to write this article myself, with his high praise for the man whom he worked alongside for many years.

Mr Arthur spoke of Nigel as a man whose ‘generosity knew no boundaries’, a man who was ‘big in stature’ and ‘big in heart.’ And I think that it how most Forest fans will remember him too. The minute’s applause before the game followed by chants to the tune of Nigel’s name provided a striking homage to the man who saved our club and continued to back us over the years.

And the game itself, against Watford, was an exhilarating match full of chances that Nigel himself, as a fan, would definitely have enjoyed. The fact that the Reds put in a performance we can build on, might have produced what Mr Arthur said was Nigel’s favourite saying when times were hard – “Remember, darkest is before dawn.”

For Forest this season, there is hope, and on Saturday we were shown that. The fans were magnificent for the entire game and the players responded accordingly, earning a point that could easily have been three. The feeling of unity in the City Ground was immense, and the volume of the Mull of Kintyre song, sang by Reds’ fans prior to kick-off, emulated this.

I think that the biggest honour we can all pay to Nigel is to continue our fantastic support through these hard times for the club we all love, just like Nigel did. As Nigel’s favourite phrase preached - even in the worst of circumstances there is light at the end of the tunnel, and we saw that belief in action on Saturday, both in terms of the play from our players, and the support from all of the Forest faithful.

I would just like to thank every Forest fan, and indeed those that are not linked with the club, that have paid their respects in their own way over the last week to a man who has left us far too soon. This unison between us all has created an atmosphere for success which Nigel would have been proud of.

Now it is time for us all to step up and continue to remember Nigel by doing what he did best; supporting the Reds through thick and thin.

Let’s paint the city red.

R.I.P Nigel.

A tribute left by one fan outside the City Ground

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Tudgay ends Reds 10-hour goal drought

At last: Nottingham Forest celebrate Marcus Tudgay's goal against Ipswich
Marcus Tudgay is congratulated by his team mates after his early strike

Ipswich Town 1 (Leadbitter (pen) 75) 

Nottingham Forest 3 (Tudgay, 5, 78, McCleary, 26)

Nottingham Forest began 2012 in fine fashion on Monday as they finally put an end to a run of games that had stretched to seven outings without a goal - beating Ipswich to move level on points with fellow Championship strugglers Bristol City. 

Prior to Marcus Tudgay’s early opener Forest had gone 635 minutes of football without a goal. The Reds’ frontman had finished neatly to put his side ahead before Garath McCleary added a second just before the half-hour mark. 

The match was in no way one sided however, and the Tractor Boys could have been level at the break but for their lack of finishing in front of goal and the safe hands of Forest keeper Lee Camp. 

The second period provided some good end-to-end football and although the visitors began well it was Ipswich that scored from the spot through Grant Leadbitter. But Tudgay ensured Forest avoided a tense finish as he headed home his sixth goal of the season to round off the scoring. 

Before the trip to Portman Road the last goal the Reds scored was Tudgay's injury-time strike in a 3-2 victory in the reverse fixture at the City Ground on November 19. So it was fitting that the former Sheffield Wednesday man broke the duck. 

Andy Reid put Tudgay in on goal with a great through ball to find the striker in space down the right. And the man who began his playing days at Derby County made it look like he had been scoring every week as he rifled the ball into the top corner from 15-yards. 

Soon after the hosts missed a chance to go level when a Carlos Edwards’ free kick fell to home defender Damien Delaney - the Irishman teed up Jay Emmanuel-Thomas but he headed straight at Camp who collected comfortably. 

George Boateng was back in the side for his first appearance under Reds’ boss Steve Cotterill and the veteran midfielder tested Town keeper Arran Lee-Barrett with a shot from 25-yards that the keeper pounced on well. 

And it was the Reds that doubled their lead when Delaney failed to clear the ball before it fell for McCleary who spun past one man before firing the ball into the corner of the net from 22-yards. 

Moments later it could have been three when former Premier League veteran Lee Bowyer gave the ball away in midfield and Lewis McGugan tried to capitalise with a rasping half-volley from 30-yards that flew just over. 

Celtic loanee Daryl Murphy missed another golden chance for the home side to get a goal back when he found himself unmarked and struck straight at Camp from six yards out. 

And Emmanuel-Thomas shuddered the crossbar as he struck a superb effort from around 35-yards that bounced back out to Bowyer who mis-kicked his effort but was offside anyway. 

Former Forest winger Lee Martin then produced a great low cross to find Murphy moments before the break – but the visitors had luck on their side again and the Irishman headed over the bar from close range. 

After the teams emerged for the second half the Reds had two early chances – the first following a Reid corner which found Tudgay whose headed effort was cleared off the line. Soon after a shot from Reid was blocked and fell to McGugan but the midfielder blazed wide. 

Ipswich also continued to pile the pressure on and former Derby striker Nathan Ellington headed just wide of the left-hand post following a great ball from former Arsenal youngster Emmanuel-Thomas. 

And the Tractor Boys did get back into the game from the spot when Emmanuel-Thomas ran into the box amongst a crowd of red shirts and was brought down by Boateng. Leadbitter stepped up to score - the ball striking both posts before going in. 

The goal lifted the home side and they looked to have got a foot back in the game until Reds’ veteran Reid found a weighted cross to Tudgay who rose above his two markers to loop a great header over Lee-Barrett and into the net. 

Leadbitter had the final attempt for Ipswich in stoppage-time but his effort was put out for a corner by Camp and the Reds held out for all three points. 

Forest remain in the relegation zone but are now level on points with Bristol City who sit just above them in safety. The Reds play table-toppers Southampton next at the City Ground on Saturday 14th January. Kick-off is at 3pm.