VICE Sports feed for https://sports.vice.comenFri, 21 Jul 2017 14:24:53 +0000<![CDATA[Does it Matter Who Presents Match of the Day?]]>, 21 Jul 2017 14:24:53 +0000If you have spent any time on Twitter during the past few days, reading the opinions of faceless eggs, you will no doubt be aware that the salaries of top earners at the BBC have been revealed. Second on this quite shameful list was Gary Lineker, the former footballer who has been rehabilitated into a media phenomenon and occasional left-wing proselytiser.

Once known for his scrupulous fair play and an unfortunate scatological misstep during Italia 90, Lineker is now most famous for presenting Match of the Day. During the news reports covering the BBC salaries story, he was pictured in the MOTD studio and referred to as 'the Match of the Day presenter'. He does other things for the BBC – the Olympics, golf, Sports Personality of the Year – but MOTD is what he is really known for. That, and shitting himself on a football pitch.


Disclaimer 1: I have no problem whatsoever with Gary Lineker. While the BBC salaries exposed some pretty awful gender and racial pay gaps, I don't object in theory to Lineker being paid what he is. He's great at his job, and while it's not nearly as important or complex as heart surgery those two professions are so beyond comparison that I feel like a tit for even bringing it up.

Getting a bit abstract now but yeah, sure, stick a small dog beloved of society girls in the studio and I will still watch. Put something more problematic in there – a moose or a hungry yak – and I'm still on board.

Besides, as well as being preferable to Ann Widdy, the palpable tension between the pundits (proper football men) and the dog (not even a human, lads) would be a joy to behold.


The point I am making is that people generally watch Match of the Day for the football. They tune in to see Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, United, Spurs and the rest. The presenter – like the studio and yes, even the theme tune – is largely incidental to this. That is not to say that you shouldn't hire the best person possible, which Gary Lineker is. But in this world where for some reason we have everything to do and no time to do it, MOTD is often consumed via BBC iPlayer or a TV recording, and with liberal use of the fast-forward button. Lineker and the close-shaved men can be skipped over.

Again: this is not a treatise advocating the sacking of Lineker. I don't want Graham Norton or Ann Widdecome or a tiny dog to take his place. But in theory, if you replaced him with any of them, would the ratings decline sharply? You'd just turn the sound down between segments and, dare I say it, cherish the actual football even more.

Ultimately, none of this matters. Gary will remain on the Match of the Day sofa and the faceless eggs will continue to complain about BBC salaries. Do they realise that the Queen costs literally 30 times what Lineker does? And she couldn't present her way out of a paper bag, so perhaps it's time to get some perspective on where public money is being wasted, lads.


xwz3qaJim WeeksmotdGary Linekermatch of the dayfootball on the tellytv footballtiny dogs
<![CDATA[Photographing Benny Podda, the Bodybuilder Turned Martial Artist Turned Cave-Dwelling Medicine Man]]>, 21 Jul 2017 09:27:38 +0000 There's a glimpse of Benny Podda in the ESPN documentary about the rise and fall of Todd Marinovich: "Martial artist Benny Podda," the voiceover says, was a coach for the former Raiders quarterback. Podda also trained Chuck Norris and made a cameo in one of his movies. A Pennsylvania-born bodybuilder who won a National Physique Committee championship along with a smattering of other titles, Podda was eccentric even in a world of weirdoes: he allegedly robbed a pharmacy for painkillers using a bow and arrow, posed for bodybuilding competitions wearing a werewolf mask, spurted blood out of his nose on command, and could dangle more than 200 pounds from his testicles. He once hung himself from a noose at a bodybuilding show in Newark, New Jersey; swayed for five minutes; then opened his eyes and gave the audience the finger. An aside in the Los Angeles Times says he studied martial arts in China for five years, and he claimed to have traveled to China to compete in (and win) martial arts tournaments that took place on tabletops.

That Marinovich footage was taken during what was probably Podda's last stint in society. A celebrity who checked out before the age of Google to live in a cave and treat the sick and desperate on an Indian reservation, Podda doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. His whereabouts today are unclear. Nearly every second-hand word about his legend comes from a November 2004 feature in Men's Fitness . When photographer Ray Lego got the call to fly to southern California for a photoshoot, he didn't know what to expect. "I didn't know squat about him," Lego says. "All I really had to go by was that he was a dude that wore a werewolf mask and lived in a cave." What followed was a hallucinogenic journey through the rattlesnake-riddled home of the Cahuilla Indians, sipping a concoction made from homegrown marijuana and undisclosed herbal add-ons, and watching a then-47-year-old man abuse himself for a camera to demonstrate his Iron Palm prowess.

Ray Lego: My assistant and I flew in to California and they put us up in some super-nice hotel in Palm Springs – every time the wind blew you could smell the rosemary growing outside our window from one floor down to the next. We had everything ready and were just waiting and drinking margaritas at the pool floating around and having a good old time. I had no idea what I was going into.

The next day we get a call, and an Asian woman said, "Benny's ready. Meet at this place." It was a phone booth right outside an [Indian] reservation. We drove two hours through the [San Bernardino Mountains] to where she told us to go, she came down in a car and said, "Follow us." It was desert with tumbleweeds blowing through, chicken wire, junk and car parts everywhere – it wasn't beautiful at all. You could see someone shooting a gun at a target in the background, there was a jeep with all the wheels off of it and it looked like it had rusted into the ground. We followed her into the Indian reservation and came to a beat-up ranch house, and out in the backyard was this fenced-off trail where illegal immigrants would come through to America.

Benny was super nice, a really nice genuine person. He was super mellow. He did crazy things, but he was so level and down to earth. He was just living life on his own terms. Sometimes you get really big and think, "This sucks, I don't want the fame," but he never really got huge. He wasn't like Schwarzenegger: he was always on the fringe. Right now, he could probably come back and do something pretty crazy.

9kwv37Jeff HarderMichael HreskoBodybuildingHallucinogensFIGHTLANDMartial Artsbenny podda
<![CDATA[Pud Pad Noy Worawoot: The “Golden Leg” of Muay Thai ]]>, 21 Jul 2017 09:11:42 +0000 When you hear talk of a new Thai fighter with killer kicks, it's always good to think of an old one. A big number from the past, a superstar from yesterday, a slick vet from the days of black and white fights.

One monochrome thug is Pud Pad Noy Worawoot, a left round kicker so vicious that Benny "The Jet" Urquidez once ducked a Muay Thai straightener after seeing his "Golden Leg" at work in the gym.

Who can blame the Jet? But long before he was putting the frighteners on badass American kickboxers, Pud Pad Noy began his fight career aged 14 in Khon Kaen, a city in Issan province. After 60 regional bouts in Issan, and 10 big victories in a row, the eight-limbed whippersnapper headed for Bangkok in 1969 to fight in the big time show as a flyweight.

Living in a cramped dormitory next to a spit-and-sawdust gym that doesn't exist anymore (not far from Khao San Road's backpacker district), Pud Pad Noy was just another kid fighter from Issan existing hand-to-mouth in the Big Mango. However, he knuckled down and soon became known on the circuit as a gutsy, come-forward, technical southpaw who would have a go with just about anyone.

One early victim on the upward path was Rojsaming Loogprakanong. Displaying nifty evasion skills, Pud Pad Noy shook off Rojsaming's attempts to tie him up in the clinch and cut through his guard with depleted uranium kicks and knees. Not a one-trick pony, he followed through with his hands and TKO'd Rojasaming in Round Two with a tight left hook and uppercut combo to win the match.

Promoted by Kunkhao Sapkaw, within two years the wee lad with the power kicks had become a top drawer flyweight at Rajadamnern and Lumpinee Stadium. Out of 19 bouts during those first two salad years in the big city, he won 17 times and lost twice (to Kwanmuang Jitprasert).

A good fighter must have a deadly weapon, something that can be deployed to turn a fight around. Pud Pad Noy had the high left round kick. And every fighter has to have a secret weapon. Pud Pad Noy had the elbow. But, when an opponent's got the book on you, it's best to extend your repertoire. Or show it off. One such instance was Pud Pad Noy's bout with Sirimongkol in December 1975. Once again, Pud was coming in light (133 pounds) against Sirimongkol (136 pounds), a dangerous and unpredictable southpaw. Boxing behind a cheeky, unstoppable teep, Pud Pad Noy flummoxed Sirimongkol in Round One and came off tops in the Round Three exchange of round kicks to carry the fight by decision.

After seven years at the top of the food chain, the five-time champ went off the rails on booze, and beaucoup ladies, and his boxing went south. The watershed moment was a 1976 bout against Wangwon Lookmatulee. Flat-footed and out of shape, our man lost on the cards and announced his retirement thereafter. It shocked fans. It shocked his loyal promoter and manager. But, after so many years at the very tip-top, Pud Pad Noy got the seven-year itch, and left Thailand to go and study in the USA.

It's good to have options when you're a boxer on the slide. But, as Yodsanklai Fairtex might soon discover, retirement in Muay Thai can be a short-term deal. Pud Pad Noy was still a big crowd draw. Pud Pad Noy returned to the front but it went Rocky in reverse and he accrued more losses than wins on the comeback trail. Like Apidej, his time had passed, and, once again, Pud Pad Noy announced his retirement after 135 wins and 15 losses in 150 bouts.

There was a new calling for the ex-champ: coaching farangs (foreigners) in France, the original land of the farang. Pud Pad Noy settled in Paris in 1980 and coached the locals Muay Thai for three decades. Not Thai boxing, not kickboxing, but good old Muay Thai with fish oil and lots of chilli powder. Guillaume Kerner. Olivier Gauthier. Jean-Marie Merchet. Franck Marre. Daniel Woirin. The Henry Ford fight factory of nak muay farang (foreign boxers) was most impressive.

After 23 years in France, Pud Pad Noy relocated back home to Thailand. He still coaches and multi-tasks as a referee and judge in contests. And sometimes he gets lured out of retirement to fight blokes from the past. One old soi dog was his bogeyman opponent from the 1970s, Wichanoi, whom he met for a pot bellied dust-up at Omnoi Stadium in February 2012. The 60+ fighter still had the moves to bust on Wichanoi (who resembled a street food vendor from Sukhumvit Road) but the contest, refereed by Poot Lorlek, was declared a diplomatic draw. Props to the boys. But old or young, in fuzzy black and white, or glaring colour, nothing beats watching a slick pro at work in the squared ropes of a fighting ring.

59p4wnAlexander ReynoldsMichael HreskoThailandFIGHTLANDmuay thaiPud Pad Noy Worawoot
<![CDATA[How Colombia’s 1994 World Cup Campaign Led To The Murder of Andres Escobar]]>, 20 Jul 2017 15:27:56 +0000 In the run up to the 1994 World Cup, Colombia had been nothing short of a phenomenon. Having gone unbeaten in their first five qualifiers and conceded only two goals along the way, La Tricolor sealed their place at the finals with a 5-0 demolition of Argentina in Buenos Aires in September 1993. The dangerous state of affairs back home was epitomised by the resulting celebrations, with dozens killed and hundreds injured in the supposedly jubilant aftermath. Though a much diminished Pablo Escobar would be caught and killed in a shootout with the infamous Search Bloc a couple of months afterwards, Colombia was still caught up in a vicious war against its narcos, with the collapse of the Medellin cartel and the rise of their Cali rivals making the first few years of the nineties some of the bloodiest on record.

It was against this violent backdrop that the Colombian national team travelled to USA 94, bearing an enormous weight on their shoulders. Colombian supporters expected them to go far, including many avid fans from within the rival cartels. Pablo Escobar himself had been a diehard supporter of the national team before his death, following their fortunes from hiding while financing Colombian football through his alleged connections to Atletico Nacional and a programme of grassroots benefaction. Colombia's players laboured under a form of pressure far more acute than that of their opponents, then, having raised expectations among some of the deadliest and most unpredictable criminals in the country.

The deadening burden showed once La Tricolor had kicked off their World Cup campaign in earnest. They opened the tournament with a dispiriting 3-1 defeat to a Gheorghe Hagi-inspired Romania at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, a far cry from their hammering of La Albiceleste the previous year. Rumours began to circulate that the drug cartels were attempting to influence team selection, with death threats intended for head coach Francisco Maturana and midfielder Gabriel Jaime Gomez sent through their hotel switchboard before their next match against the USA. That game was now absolutely crucial, a fact which was no doubt stressed to the players through all means available to the meddling narcos. Lose to the host nation and Colombia would be as good as out of the competition, with the players left to face the displeasure of some of the most feared men in South America.

Fans mourn Escobar at the World Cup // PA Images

While a man named Humberto Castro Munoz was soon arrested and judged to have fired the fatal bullets, it was the people he worked for, the Gallon brothers, who were seen as the masterminds behind the crime. Seasoned narcos and gambling moguls, some theorised that they had wanted Escobar killed on account of money they lost on the USA game. Other theories have since emerged, with Henry Mance writing in FourFourTwo that their argument may have been over a woman, and others seeing it as an essentially arbitrary event in a city which was haunted by casual homicide. Either way, at the time, many Colombians saw Escobar's killing as emblematic of a society despoiled by narcos, with Medellin's El Colombiano newspaper going with the headline "Unpardonable!" and hundreds of thousands of mourners turning his funeral into a peaceful demonstration of sorts.

Though Andres was no relation to Pablo Escobar, it has since been suggested that had the notorious drug lord been alive his namesake might not have been killed that evening. As narcos in Medellin, the Gallon brothers would have known not to target a footballer and star of Atletico Nacional lest they face the most vicious of reprisals themselves. Pablo was dead and buried, however, and fear of his merciless wrath no longer kept the streets of Medellin in check. Either way, had Colombia advanced to the group stages of the World Cup, Andres Escobar would never have been at El Indio that night and might well be alive today.


wj8ynnWill MageeFootballCOLOMBIAFeaturesPABLO ESCOBARWorld Cupbrief historiesAndrés EscobarUsa '941994 world cupcolombia national football teamcolombian footballthe gallon brothers
<![CDATA[The Tactical Guide to Chris Weidman vs. Kelvin Gastelum]]>, 20 Jul 2017 08:29:21 +0000 The Fall of the House of Weidman

There have been few falls from grace as steep and sudden as that of Chris Weidman. Once the UFC's reigning middleweight champion, the slayer of Anderson Silva, and the future of the middleweight division, Weidman now rides a streak of three losses. The nature of the fight game is that the narrative changes to suit the moment, so Weidman's run through Anderson Silva (twice), Lyoto Machida (looking the best he had in years), and Vitor became Weidman beating up old men but another commonly suggested reason for Weidman's drop off is the coming of the USADA tested era. Chris Weidman and Johny Hendricks are two former champions whose records before and after USADA / UFC co-operation read like night and day. Others say that Weidman has simply 'lost it', lost that hunger to train and to fight, or even lost the heart to take a kicking.

The flames of rabid speculation are fed by the awkward fact that unlike Hendricks, Chris Weidman isn't looking listless in his fights and missing weight. He's looking good, until he quickly falls apart and loses. In many respects losing a convincing decision might have been better for Weidman's appearance than the series of rough stoppages he has suffered. The hallmark of Weidman's recent career, particularly his last two fights, has been starting strong and fading quickly. What allowed Weidman to get the better of the savvy southpaw counter strikers Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida was his patience and his pressure—yet against Yoel Romero and Gegard Mousasi, Weidman rapidly went from slick boxer-wrestler to mouth breathing and swinging awkwardly between sloppy shots.

It seems unlikely that Weidman would simply stop turning up in shape to go at least a couple of rounds so perhaps these strengthen the idea of a mental collapse. It is strange to watch Weidman demonstrate such a proper understanding of ringcraft, feints and double ups in his tricking of Silva and trapping of Machida along the fence, but then be stumped by Romero simply retreating on a straight line from each of his attacks. Perhaps the pressure Weidman is under to come back and look good is making him fight too hard in the early going, perhaps he suffered a crisis of confidence when he failed to keep Yoel Romero on the mat and when he began to eat Gegard Mousasi's jab more often. It is never too late to undergo a career resurgence in mixed martial arts, but fans aren't willing to give Weidman much more leeway and four losses on the trot would be more than enough justification for the UFC to send him packing in spite of his past accomplishments.

Understanding The Chris

Chris Weidman's ability has always been playing the all-rounder. Already an accomplished wrestler, Weidman surprised many with his rapid development in grappling; he had a good crack at the great Andre Galvao in ADCC just a couple of years into training jiu jitsu. In mixed martial arts his guard passing stands out as among the most effective. The drive to half guard is perhaps the most common pass in mixed martial arts, but Weidman has some other slick looks. The knee cut that Weidman used against Lyoto Machida was a treat and allowed Weidman to attempt his favourite D'arce choke as Machida turned into him. Against Gegard Mousasi's active butterfly guard, Weidman repeatedly threatened and eventually completed a nice folding / smash pass straight into mount.

Weidman's single leg consistently surprises opponents despite being more a reach for the leg than a level change and shot at the hips. Even the great Yoel Romero was taken down a couple of times by Weidman's single. Where Weidman seemed to lose Romero was when the latter immediately turned to his hands and knees and stood back up, rather than consolidating a guard.

This could be interesting against Kelvin Gastelum as Gastelum's ground game has largely been built around getting to all fours and scrambling up. Back on The Ultimate Fighter it led to him getting his back taken half a dozen times in one fight against Bubba McDaniel, but nowadays Gastelum is much better at applying classical stand ups in an MMA context. Gastelum even hit the same arm rolls he was using against so-so opponents on The Ultimate Fighter against Tim Kennedy and Neil Magny, but more on him later.

On the feet Weidman is a fairly basic fighter, but his performances against Silva and Machida go to show how much of striking is between the actual hitting parts. Anderson Silva always likes an opponent to reach for him and he'll try to crack them clean as they open up or recover from their swings. He also has a strong distaste for leading and tries to avoid it unless it is the odd flashy kick or a flurry to steal a round. Weidman did a good job of closing the distance repeatedly with feints and non-committal jabs, always staying on top of his feet and being ready to retreat, cover or move his head. Silva was forced to take his finger off the trigger on his counters because Weidman was advertising so many false strikes and opening up so little, at which point Weidman could land with good jabs, or the occasional right hands or low kicks. Weidman benefitted more in those two matches from what he didn't do than what he did.

Against Lyoto Machida, Weidman's ringcraft was sublime. Certainly it ranks up there with some of Rafael dos Anjos' best performances. Machida kept using energy to feint and direction change and jog off the fence—the right thing to do, but also a lot of activity for a fighter who likes to work in spurts, and none of it towards landing strikes. When Machida got caught on the fence, it was the double right straight, a few good kicks, and the takedowns that took it out of him and won Weidman rounds. Late in that fight Weidman also showed the hand traps he loves utilizing to land that famous turning elbow—the same that he put Mark Munoz down with.

Hypothetical Gameplans

One of the more interesting factors of this match-up for Gastelum is that no matter where Weidman is at in his career, you will find very few fighters with anywhere close to as much experience against top tier southpaws. It's truly bizarre to look at Weidman's record and realize that between Tom Lawlor in November of 2011 and Gegard Mousasi in April of 2017, Weidman met just one other orthodox fighter, Mark Munoz. Demian Maia, Anderson Silva (twice), Lyoto Machida, Vitor Belfort, Luke Rockhold and Yoel Romero are all southpaws, so the idea that Gastelum will have some kind of advantage based on fighting from the lesser seen stance is hard to buy: this has been business as usual for Weidman for the last six years.

As we discussed yesterday in The Unlikely Rise of Kelvin Gastelum , Gastelum's striking has become wonderfully slick with a very limited toolbox. The one-two is what he loves, and he doesn't like to do anything else unless he's forced to. He won't smother his own punches or step in too far, and if he can crank out two or three one-twos in a row, he's more than happy to. No matter how much you train for southpaws, though, that left straight is still the killer punch. There is no shoulder to duck down behind and protect you from the opponent's rear hand when standing in an open stance match up, so southpaw – orthodox match ups can turn into quick draw on the straight. Weidman's own right straight is a mixed bag, some of his worst moments have come as he swings it wildly and leans forward at the waist (along with his most famous knockout, of course), while some of his best shots have been stiff, straight rights from the correct distance.

Julio Cesar Chavez often demonstrated the double right straight as a distance closer against southpaws, Weidman used the same to get Lyoto Machida to the fence and it was gorgeous. As Gastelum retreats from his opponent's attempts, before stepping back in to pressure—rather than moving his head or covering up and staying in range—Weidman could very much make use of this.

Given Gastelum's vulnerable stance, with his feet always on a line, the outside low kick to the lead leg would be a smart call for Weidman. Both the step-up power low kick of Jerome Le Banner, and the skip-up foot tap that is used to knock the opponent's foot off line before following up with a good straight punch. Here's Weidman not quite getting it against Romero:

And here's Romero using it to perfection against Tim Kennedy:

Gastelum's game at middleweight has been to survive, to scramble, and to outlast his opponents. He gets ragdolled, he gets back up, and the moment he gets free he steps in and starts feinting, snapping out punches, and pressuring his man to move and to work. Given how much slower Weidman has looked in the second round of both his most recent showings, this strategy seems like it could work a treat. In terms of vulnerabilities Weidman is a sucker for the open side body kick—Romero and Rockhold caught him with some nasty ones—but Gastelum's kicking game is an afterthought in most of his fights. It bears repeating that Gastelum could probably finish even more of his opponents if he would commit to body punches—particularly that wicked left straight to the solar plexus, but it's probably best not to count on it showing up.

Weidman has always been a decent hitter in the clinch, particularly with the collar tie, but very rarely works to produce that situation and instead just pleasantly surprises when he ends up there. Given his size advantage on Gastelum and the energy he wastes when he cannot capitalize on his takedowns, it would be a nice surprise if Weidman had been working on using his ring cutting to get to the fence, to hold and to hit from there.

Regardless of the reasons for his rapid decline it is crucial to understand that Weidman lives and dies by patience and timing. Whether it is gassing or panic that gets the better of him, leaning for long swings and diving for long shots has consistently been a problem for him in recent fights. When Weidman excels is when he can comfortably get into range and mix between boxing and takedowns—he cannot convincingly mislead anyone when he is attempting this from Machida distance.

If Kelvin Gastelum wins we can chalk up another victory for the undersized men who aren't drying themselves out completely before fights. With Gastelum and Robert Whittaker hanging around the top of the middleweight division as grown up welterweights fighters may begin questioning the necessity of such tactics. If Chris Weidman pulls off the victory we can cautiously hope that he is able to get some momentum back under him in this harsh game of snakes and ladders. Whatever the case, get back here on Monday and we'll look at how it went down.

Pick up Jack Slack's hit dissection of the Conor McGregor phenomenon, Notorious from Amazon.

j5qnvgJack SlackMichael HreskoFIGHTLANDchris weidmankelvin gastelum
<![CDATA[Here’s To You, Paul Robinson, Football Loves You More Than You Will Know]]>, 19 Jul 2017 15:24:23 +0000 Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum,
Mourn the retirement of Paul Robinson.

Though W.H. Auden may not have originally intended Funeral Blues to be dedicated to future Leeds, Tottenham and Blackburn goalkeeper Paul Robinson, the emotional force of the poem is appropriate in the context of Robinson's life as a footballer coming to an end. Having spent the last season and a half at Burnley, making only three appearances for the Turf Moor club, the man who once famously lobbed fellow keeper Ben Foster from 80 yards has finally hung up his gloves. That freak effort made him only the third goalkeeper to score a goal in Premier League history and – along with a euphoric glancing header for Leeds in a Carling Cup match against Swindon – was one of the highlights of a career in which Robinson became an ever-present in English football. Throughout the noughties, Robinson was part of the Premier League furniture, a timeworn leather sofa with stubbled edges and creases deeper than his precipitous widow's peak.

While Robinson's hairline may now have been altered by what appears to be some sort of correctional procedure, fond recollections of his goalkeeping remain. For many, he will be remembered as a keeper who was well liked but abundantly fallible; his time at Tottenham was scuppered by a series of mistakes including some questionable positioning in the 2008 League Cup Final, and despite Tottenham's triumph that day he was jettisoned by Juande Ramos soon afterwards. Despite making a respectable 41 appearances for England between 2003 and 2007, he was criticised for his role in the national team's disastrous Euro 2008 qualifying campaign under the inept guidance of Steve McClaren. His famous goal against Foster came only a few months after he had made one of the most embarrassing goalkeeping errors of all time for the Three Lions, with the contrast between the two incidents emblematic of a career which veered between highs and lows.

Robinson despairs after his famous error against Croatia during England's Euro 2008 qualifiers // PA Images

Robinson had an inadvertent comical streak which went further than allowing the ball to bobble past him and into the net now and then. One of his defining moments in an England shirt came when he accidentally hoofed a goal kick into the overhead televisions during the Three Lions' first match at the 2006 World Cup, with the enormous, aimless punt earning him an appreciative cheer from the England fans in the stands. For a former Tottenham goalkeeper, he bows out of football with one of the most unfortunate career statistics ever, namely that he has conceded more Premier League goals against Arsenal than any other keeper against any other club. Even his unlikely goalscoring feats were essentially ludicrous, with his celebrations consisting of flapping his oversized gloves and laughing in semi-disbelief at himself.

Nonetheless, while he was never one of the best goalkeepers in the league, Robinson was certainly underappreciated outside of the clubs he called home. There is a reason that he retained fan favourite status despite his fallibility, with fans at Leeds, Spurs and Blackburn more willing to forgive his errors than commentators and outside observers. He was voted Player of the Year by Leeds fans in 2003 and again by Blackburn supporters in 2011, both after otherwise underwhelming seasons in which they had flirted with relegation. Robinson may not have had the most accurate distribution, the coolest composure or even the most natural talent, but he was a siege goalkeeper who could be relied upon to throw out a strong hand or deliver a thumping reflex save.

READ MORE: How Social Media Has Become a Tool of Psychological Warfare During The Transfer Window

Relatively short for a goalkeeper at 6'2, Robinson was never going to have the greatest aerial presence under a thunderous barrage of crosses, but he made up for this with his agility and acrobatics between the posts. More than anything else, supporters fall head over heels for goalkeepers who are also entertainers, even if statistical mastery of the more prosaic areas of the game often earns a keeper more clean sheets. Robinson was certainly a virtuoso, a goalkeeper who was able to outshine his outfield teammates over the course of a full season with his dramatic shot stopping. There are few keepers who are Player of the Year at the age of 24 and again eight years later, and while he may have lagged behind in other areas he had few rivals when it came to tipping a screamer away.

Often forgotten with regards to Robinson is the fact that, at the age of 33, he missed six months after developing a potentially fatal blood clot on his lung after a routine back operation. Speaking to The Daily Mail towards the end of the recovery process, he said: "At the worst point it felt like someone was stabbing a knife into my chest and twisting it repeatedly… It was an achievement after the first month to go out of the house and walk." Despite losing his starting spot and his fitness to a serious health issue, Robinson came back to play another two seasons with Blackburn in the Championship before making his swansong with Burnley. While he might have had his heyday in the noughties, the end of his career is arguably more impressive than his peak.

Especially for fans raised on Premier League football after the turn of the millennium, then, Paul Robinson's retirement will leave an empty space where a flawed and much loved goalkeeper used to stand. More so than his bobbling miskick for England, his cameos up front and his tendency to hoof goal kicks into the stratosphere, he should be celebrated as a stopper who was there when his clubs needed him, even when he was convalescing from a pulmonary embolism. There are few other goalkeepers who can say the same, though only marginally fewer than those who can claim to have air kicked a back pass in a crucial European qualifier and allowed it to roll in for a decisive own goal.


gyb3y4Will MageeFootballLeedsTottenhamBurnleyenglish footballTottenham HotspurLeeds UnitedBlackburn Roverspaul robinsonsemi-legendary premier league goalkeepers
<![CDATA[The Cult: Roger Federer]]>, 19 Jul 2017 13:20:57 +0000 Once you're done with Roger, why not clear your diary and check out the other 98 instalments of The Cult.

Cult Grade: The God Illusion

Deep in the mists of time, when this series began, I called it The Cult because it seemed that everyone had grown a little silly about who and what sportsmen and women were. The urge to venerate humans far above what they actually are is presumably as old as the human ego. I doubt that chimpanzees did it – they don't seem the type – but I'm pretty sure the Mayans did, up there on the highest hill, cutting off some child's head for a little blood sacrifice to their dead ancestors. You know what people are like: if we put our minds to it, we can control anything.

We live – or have been living, depending on how many miles you think are left on this particular road – in the Entertainment Age. You hardly need me to tell you that sport has stood side by side with movies to form its most beloved couple. Know how many movies were released in 2016? Nah, me neither. Too many. I stopped counting at 60, by which point it was January 8th. Friend Request. Eisenstein in Guanajuato. Crayon Shin-Chan: My Moving Story. "Gimme a break, kid," you'll have to tell some uppity grandchild who's asking whether you possess the know-how to construct a workable flood defence. "I was busy with other stuff."

READ MORE: The Cult – Goran Ivanisevic

Though most of the time I just accept it, every so often I'm caught by what 'normal' looks like in sport, the excess congesting its surfaces like a bad case of herpes. The umbrella sponsored by BNP Paribas, a digital display sponsored by Rolex, the sweetly innocent Robinsons, still trying to get someone to buy barley water. Loudest of all are the desperate solicitations – delivered in a tone that always puts me in mind of that poor salesman Gil from The Simpsons – to bet on anything and everything you're seeing. Please – *grips your arm* – please bet now.

Then there are the people playing it, and the labyrinthine distortion through which we now see them. What they are is humans running around and throwing things and having KEEP IT TIGHT TO HIM GARY as the central philosophy of their existence. What they also are, in the Entertainment Age, is one of the few things on this planet that feels like it truly matters. After all, it's always new, the drama of a 91st-minute winner is never fake, so blame me not for losing track of how important they are. In this Age, when all the stuff that matters most is the opposite of what has mattered most to the human race for millennia, you get a bit weird about how to define 'important'.

So yeah, that was what I wanted to get across in profiling the members of that cultish firmament. That, among other things, it's irresistible, but inane, to see them as anything but human beings. And then moonlight falls on the murky pond of human inanity, and you see a guy who, though you know you shouldn't, can't help but make you feel that we are gods. Capable of nonchalantly rewriting the laws of what is possible. And, happily, back into the pond you go.

Point of Entry: Keys To The Universe

Here are some sports players who can compete with Roger Federer in the cultish perception stakes: Michael Jordan, Usain Bolt, Lionel Messi. That's it. I mean, I say that like I have any bloody clue about how Rod Laver or Pele or Wilt Chamberlain were viewed, except for knowing that they came into the Western conscious at a time when the Entertainment Age was at best in its adolescence, when stuff like nuclear war or global communism or the rights of black people put more pressing demands on people's attention. As your correspondent at your service, I watched some old footage of Rod Laver playing tennis, and I can report back that he looks very good at it. But, running around an unadorned court in service-issue whites, that's all he looks: good at tennis. He isn't a god. He's a sportsman who won all four Grand Slams in the same year that the Soviet Union started shipping nuclear missiles to an island a few hundred miles from America. Barely 15 years previous – in fact, only slightly longer than the gap between Federer's first and eighth Wimbledon titles – America had emptied life from two cities with these weapons. They obviously weren't 'symbolic deterrents'. I sort of hope Rod did actually try telling people during that time, as their knuckles whitened around their corned-beef tin, ears glued to their radios: 'Guys, I'm thinking of eliding my initials to form a cool logo.'

Is it an error to think of how Roger Federer plays tennis as godlike? I can't tell anymore. I'm not exactly helped by all the people who assemble to watch him while wearing sportswear bearing his logo. During the semi-final against Tomas Berdych the camera repeatedly cut to a couple, who appeared old enough to dress themselves, sporting his and hers RF red caps as if that was a completely regular thing to do, even though they clashed dementedly with the rest of their outfits. At what point did they put them on? In unison? Or did they discover, as they reunited in the hall to leave the house, that they both had the same instincts? Is that not the definition of cult: the keenness to debase yourself in service of it?

PA Images

And so we get to the true god illusion. A gentle god, his image perpetuated by how handsome he looks in a white jacket as he strides on to Centre Court, by dippily idolising TV pundits, by the creation of his smoothed, chaste, on-camera style. The illusion that somehow, Mr RF is simply playing alone, a solitary maestro bestowing his hallowed brand of tennis on a grateful world.

Bullshit. You know who doesn't get mentioned enough in any discussion of Roger Federer? His opponents. Because I can guarantee you, Roger hasn't forgotten them. He is not the charitable foundation of RF Tennis. He is, lest we forget, possibly more than anyone in the history of men's sport, the one whose forte is beating another human one-on-one. And beating them in a way that's relentless in torturing their dream that they might escape a beating. You don't get to do that, year in year out, unless you want to. Find a friendly way to describe that one to Sue Barker, eh Rodge? 'So what did you think when you knew Cilic was injured?' Can guarantee you wouldn't like the answer to that, Sue, if he could only find a way to spell it out. And here's a question: if he could, would he still feel the drive to keep on playing? Does he need tennis to spell out the darkness?

READ MORE: The Cult – Michael Vick

And so to The Moment, which occurs around 48 seconds into the video above. In the silence when the interviewer is asking him "Is it tough to be on the tour?" his face spells it out, even if it's gone in a heartbeat. And you know why I think that is? Because what he'd just said regarding recent tour results was that he'd taken a good scalp, a top-10 player, "So this week is already great."

And my theory, dear reader, for you, brought to you from a kitchen table where I have made an apple core into an impromptu ashtray, is that when 18-year-old Roger talks about beating people and then uses the words "already great", it causes a reaction in his face that gives his eyes juuuust the slightest hint of axe-murderer around enraged, tightened cheeks, before it disappears. Something inside him would never be satisfied, would never think the job was done. You cannot keep beating people, to the extent he has, unless you need to, unless it is a means to cool your insides off. And what are any of us really looking for but a way to cool off our insides?

Closing Statements

Some suited commentary goon stood next to one of those blue ATP courts in 2010, doing a bit-to-camera:"I had a chance to chat to the top eight players. I asked them a few 'random questions'.First of all, which actor would they like to portray them – *pause for effect * – in a film.

Federer: "Pffft, I dunno. Hopefully one of the greatest actors around. I don't know which one that is right now."

Words: @TobySprigings / Illustration: @Dan_Draws

59p4zxToby SprigingsDan EvansTennisWimbledonThe CultRoger Federergrand slamThe God Illusionhyper-elite sportsmentennis machinesswiss people
<![CDATA[How Social Media Has Become a Tool of Psychological Warfare During the Transfer Window]]>, 19 Jul 2017 08:27:49 +0000 When it comes to agitating for a transfer, Diego Costa doesn't really do subtext. Having spent much of the season fostering rumours of his desire for a move away from Chelsea, the onset of the summer transfer window has seen him claim that Antonio Conte no longer wants him at the club, a development which some have suggested could damage Chelsea's bargaining position and see the hirsute archvillain leave on his own terms. If this seems like a last nefarious flourish from a footballer who has inspired more theatrical hisses than almost anyone else in recent years – only really rivalled by Luis Suarez, who probably edges it on account of racism and biting people – it can also be seen as a clever use of the press to manoeuvre a move to his preferred destination. If Costa has used the conventional media in his machinations, however, he has also attempted to harness the power of social media and use it to his own gain.

Costa has made it abundantly clear that he would like to rejoin Atletico Madrid, the club with which he won La Liga in 2013-14 and made his name with 64 goals in 135 appearances. This week, in a move about as subtle as selecting "swipe right to hang out" on Tinder Social as a euphemism for "let's have an orgy", Costa posted an Instagram Live of himself dancing through the streets of his hometown while wearing an Atletico strip. Whether this was encouraged by his representatives or Costa made the decision to don the Atleti shirt himself, it was clearly intended as a way of furthering his flirtation with Los Rojiblancos. Costa is the Tinder instigator, Atletico Madrid his most attractive match and Instagram Live the medium through which a group date with Chelsea might be facilitated.

READ MORE: The Semi-Definitive Guide To Transfer Window Cliches

To move swiftly away from Tinder analogies – even if there are often similarities between the way people use Tinder and military techniques for inflicting mental suffering – Costa has seemingly tried to use social media as a tool of psychological warfare. The transfer window is a battle of the minds, and Costa has just launched an offensive from the back of his Instagram-branded tuk-tuk. Assuming that signs of overt dissatisfaction from the Brazilian strengthen the buyer's hand in negotiations, Costa's rogue Instagram video does Atletico Madrid a favour in terms of dictating an acceptable transfer fee. It also reiterates to Chelsea his preferred move and the relative ease with which they can shift him on to Atletico, as well as motivating them to get things done lest he continue to undermine their position and serve as an unwanted distraction for the club.

Costa is not the only player to use social media this way over the summer. Monaco defender Benjamin Mendy, who is reportedly close to signing with Manchester City, posted a photo of himself in Union Jack shorts with the caption "see you soon" on Instagram last week, another less-than-subtle indication that he wants his transfer signed off as soon as possible. When Tiemoue Bakayoko, another Monaco fugitive, was supposedly the target of a bid from Manchester United which surpassed that of his preferred club Chelsea, he responded with a Blues-themed Instagram post while his brother emphasised the point on Snapchat. Again, whether this was down to him or his representatives, it was an example of someone involved in the transfer attempting to use social media as a form of leverage. Bakayoko signed for Chelsea at the weekend, though the exact significance of his brother's Snapchats in proceedings remains unclear.

Via @ChelseaFC on Twitter

This phenomenon can also be observed in the way that a footballer's activity on Instagram and Twitter is now relentlessly analysed in the mainstream media, with each and every 'like' and 'follow' scrutinised as clues to a potential transfer. While almost all of this analysis is essentially meaningless in and of itself, social media nonetheless acts as means of communication and manipulation of the press. When Instagram activity translates into headlines and online stories in many of the main media outlets, it's not hard to imagine how players and their representatives might ramp up the psychological pressure on other parties in a transfer. Whether by building anticipation and frustration among the buying club's supporters or compromising the selling club's psychological advantage, it is easier for a footballer to drop clues, hints and statements of discontent on social media than to go with the old-school option and be coincidentally 'spotted' near the club where he intends to move.

But does social media really affect the way that clubs negotiate transfers? Surely, when clubs are discussing the exchange of tens of millions of pounds, a footballer's behaviour on Twitter and Instagram is ultimately incidental to the deal being done? While this might seem like a sane response to the madness of the transfer market in the age of online discourse, there is evidence to suggest that clubs take social media increasingly seriously and believe in its worth with regards to public relations. When football clubs begin to measure their brand value by followers, likes, reach and engagement, a smartphone becomes a powerful tool in the hands of a disgruntled player. In the insane world of modern football, maybe even those dealing in millions can be influenced by Diego Costa's renegade Instagram clips.


3kn44nWill MageeFootballFeatureschelseaManchester UnitedDiego Costatransfersatletico madridtransfer windowBenjamin Mendydiego costa's instagramTiemoue Bakayoko
<![CDATA[How The 2002 World Cup Became The Most Controversial Tournament in Recent Memory]]>, 18 Jul 2017 09:43:38 +0000 The 2002 World Cup should by rights be remembered as the tournament of the underdog. Senegal beat holders France in the group stage before dumping out Sweden in the Round of 16; Turkey advanced to the semi-finals before losing by a single goal to Brazil; and host nation South Korea went on a run which included knockout triumphs over Italy and Spain. The final in Yokohama may have ended up as a straight fight between Germany and the Seleção, but it was the upsets of the previous rounds which sent reverberations around the globe.

Meanwhile, the individual stars of the tournament were an iconic trio of attackers in yellow, with Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and Ronaldo dancing through opposition defences with impossible grace on their way to victory. Still, ask people about the most memorable moments of the 2002 World Cup, and the majority would probably overlook the eight goals scored by Ronaldo, and even Ronaldinho's famous lob over David Seaman. Instead, they would most likely recall the tournament's great controversies, the worst of which were down to the politics of FIFA, the golden goal rule and incendiary referees.

The first contentious decision of the tournament would take place six years before it had even begun, when Japan and South Korea were selected as joint hosts in the summer of 1996. Having initially presented rival bids for the competition, it was the first (and, to date, last) time that two nations would share hosting duties for the World Cup, with neither country having the infrastructure required to go it alone. The fact that Japan had never qualified for the World Cup at the time of bidding raised numerous eyebrows, as did the obvious logistical issues for fans travelling across the seas between venues. Meanwhile, the time difference meant that European fans would have to watch their matches in the morning, disturbing the working day for millions of viewers. As the first World Cup to be staged in Asia, many accused FIFA of putting political expedience over supporter convenience, with questions over the football culture in South Korea and Japan almost as persistent as they are now with regards to Qatar.

READ MORE: The Tragedy of David Seaman Getting Lobbed By Ronaldinho at the 2002 World Cup

These complaints could be dismissed as Eurocentric snobbery, of course, and FIFA were never going to be deterred from exploiting new markets by the grumbling from football's anciens régimes. In the end, fan culture in South Korea came as a pleasant surprise to many, even if there was less enthusiasm in Japan after the Samurai Blue were knocked out by Turkey in the Round of 16. Under the professorial management of Guus Hiddink, the Koreans far outdid their rival co-hosts, whipping up a storm of World Cup mania from Gwangju to Ulsan, Daegu to Seoul. Storm metaphors were popular at the time given that the World Cup took place in the monsoon season – another major gripe ahead of the tournament which dissipated as things got underway – but also because of the thunderous criticism which came about as a result of South Korea's success.

The group stage went by with relatively little incident for the Koreans, who notched convincing wins over Portugal and Poland as well as a 1-1 draw with the United States. There was considerable kvetching from the Portuguese after both Beto and Joao Pinto were sent off in their match, but in truth the Red Devils had deserved the win and went on to top the group fair and square. Where the fairness of proceedings came into question was in their Round of 16 clash with Italy in Daejeon, which they won 2-1 after striker Ahn Jung-hwan headed a golden goal past Gianluigi Buffon three minutes before the game went to penalties. Italy had been underwhelming all tournament despite boasting the talents of Maldini, Cannavaro, Totti, Nesta, Inzaghi, Materazzi, Vieri and the like, but the manner of their defeat left a bitter taste in the mouths of fans and the establishment back home.

South Korea celebrate their win over Spain // PA Images

Had South Korea downed Germany in the semis there may well have been riots, at least outside the headquarters of Europe's major newspapers. Instead, they were finally knocked out by a single goal from Michael Ballack, bringing their unlikely World Cup run to an end. The host nation were treated like heroes on the Korean peninsular, with even the chairman of North Korea's football association, Ri Kwang-gun, sending public congratulations to his nation's bitter enemies. In both Italy and Spain, there are still sporadic outbursts of anger over the perceived injustices of that World Cup, with the FIFA corruption scandal of 2015 only strengthening suspicions that the matches were influenced by politicking from football's world governing body. Nonetheless, those matches are remembered with great fondness in South Korea, where no amount of European moaning can take the shine off their greatest ever World Cup campaign.


ywgx4yWill MageeFootballSouth KoreaitalyFeaturesSpainfifabrief historiesSepp BlatterByron Morenoworld cup 2002guus hiddinkworld cup controversiessouth korean footballsouth korea national football teamGamal Ghandour
<![CDATA[Conor McGregor Is the Devil’s Son]]>, 18 Jul 2017 08:29:04 +0000 Big L is one of the greatest rappers – maybe the greatest of all – to pick up a microphone. Murdered before his 25th birthday, he only lived long enough to see a single full-length release; you can listen to his entire discography in the span of a few hours. But even in the grimiest, gun-happiest days of mid-1990s gangster rap, the Harlem emcee born Lamont Coleman distinguished his rhymes about violence, money, and drugs through cadence, word play, and cutting one-liners. He was in his finest form on "Devil's Son," an over-the-top ode to murder, rape, and pistol-whipping priests. The live version hits even harder: "I was a child runnin' wild like a goose chase/Punish my dad I put poison in his toothpaste/Then I picked my infant sister up, gave her a quick spank/Then I dropped that little bitch in the fish tank."

Absurd as those lyrics are, UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor had them beat with the sustained animosity he showed toward Floyd Mayweather on last week's four-date international tour for their August 26 pay-per-view cash grab. In Los Angeles, McGregor wore a David August suit with fuck-yous sewn into the pin stripes. In Toronto, he screamed at Showtime Sports executive Stephen Espinoza ("Look at you, you little fucking weasel!"), and he dug in further on Mayweather's tax troubles. (Mayweather: "I do numbers, I make money." McGregor: "You owe money.") In Brooklyn, everything about McGregor except for pants that looked like 19th-century wallpaper was fucking awful: he gave entry-level shout-outs to Biggie and Jay-Z, said dumb shit about being "half-black… from the belly button down," and the reality-show-season-57 blandness that seeps in when you hold three "press" conferences in a row without anyone asking a goddamn question became all too clear. In London, the thing came to a merciful end with McGregor regaining some semblance of form and, thanks to Mayweather's flights of homophobia and misogyny, coming out looking like the hero of this farcical pugilistic fairytale.

Photo by Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

But last week's miserable series of press conferences closed the distance between the blowhard McGregor pretends to be when he needs to sell something and the shameful human Floyd Mayweather, Jr., continues to be every day. Most people who've spent time with McGregor say he dials down the volume in private and, outlandish sartorial tastes and threats of running over a reporter who wouldn't let him see a story before publication notwithstanding, is a humble guy, proud father, and devoted to the mother of his son. True: telling Mayweather "dance for me boy" was gross and quasi-racist, dedicating a few coital thrusts to his "beautiful black female fans" was like Trump eating a taco bowl and tweeting "I love Hispanics," and the clean up at the media scrum afterward didn't erase the stain of ugly jokes that wouldn't pass muster on the Blue Collar Comedy Tour.

But without pardoning McGregor, remember that the goon he plays on TV perpetrated that over-the-line buffoonery in a played-out format where he had to fill dead air. He never assaulted the mother of his children while they watched, faced 90 days in jail as a result, and later opened a strip club called Girl Collection. And he didn't call his opponent a faggot in London like that's an okay slur to wield in public.

Another downside is that the episodes of let's-just-fight-right-now jawing at each other wore thin even before they showed up in LA. Mayweather and McGregor didn't fight each other at the press conferences not because of the bodyguards onstage, or any vestigial nod to professionalism. It was because why the fuck would you give away the spectacle you're trying to sell in August? Some estimates expect Mayweather-McGregor to clear 4.8 million pay-per-view buys and gross $500 million. This is life-changing money for McGregor and, with a big tax bill due, lifestyle-saving money for Mayweather. Decades after this fight is done, they will greet each other with open arms and warm words, thinking about all the cash they earned back when they pretended to hate each other.

Big L didn't actually kill his parents and his baby sister. Those who knew him remember a quiet Lamont Coleman at odds with his trigger-happy alter ego. Similarly, if the most memorable combat sports athletes aren't also method actors, they at least know how to build compelling characters through expression. Vulgar insults make for a reliable script, and so does the me-against-the-world story McGregor tells himself. "Showtime and all these, they're trying to set me up," he said in Toronto. "They're trying to catch me off-guard, they're trying to put me in these uncomfortable situations. But little do they know, I thrive in uncomfortable situations."

By the third day, when they ran out of gas, watching Mayweather and McGregor yell at each other was hell. But when you're the devil's son, that's not a bad place to be.

kzax59Jeff HarderMichael Hreskofloyd mayweatherFIGHTLANDConor McGregor