Football, Rugby and a Bit In-Between

I must start by congratulating Jamie Vardy of Leicester City for scoring in his tenth consecutive Premier League game against Newcastle United. This equals Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record and also propelled Leicester to the top of the league. He will get the chance to break the record when he plays against Van Nistelrooy’s old club, Manchester United this weekend. Vardy has had a meteoric rise up the football ladder since leaving non-league Fleetwood Town as recently as 2012. This journey has not been without controversy, Vardy faced much criticism and calls for him to be sacked by Leicester after a video emerged last summer of him allegedly racially abusing a man in a casino. The club stood by their striker and are now reaping the rewards, Vardy is also a member of the full England squad and few would bet against him making the squad for the European Championships at the end of the season if he can continue to find the net on a regular basis. Goalscorers make all the difference at clubs and Leicester, who were 4/1 to get relegated before the season began are now 1000/1 to do just that, have 28 points in the bag already and look on course for a comfortable top half finish, at least. It is great to see that a player can make that transition from non-league to the highest level in such a short period of time, it is very rare these days and gives hope to all of those playing on bad pitches, at small grounds and in front of small crowds that just maybe, it could happen to them too if they keep believing.

To compliment the ongoing scandal at FIFA, drugs in athletics has had its fair share of the sporting headlines in recent weeks with Russia, in particular, under the spotlight. I heard a comedian comment several years ago that in his opinion drug taking should be made legal in sport, as spectators, we would then be able to watch the most mind blowing sport in history! Records would tumble as we see men and women jump higher, run faster and for longer than ever before. It seems from recent developments that this was not far removed from what is actually happening in some countries right now! Are we to believe though that Russia are alone in this alledged wide scale doping operation? In the 2012 Olympics in London, Russia finished fourth in the medal table behind G.B, China and table toppers USA. In the European Championships in 2014, Russia could only finish fourth in the medal table once more. If the doping programme was so well organised and so widespread why did they not achieve better results? If Russian athletes are doping and not winning are we naïve to think that others aren’t too?

Football has not escaped this scandal either, with Arsene Wenger publicly voicing his concerns over doping in football in recent weeks. Arsenal were beaten by Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League recently only to subsequently find out that one of Zagreb’s players, Arijan Ademi had tested positive for a banned substance. Ademi has denied doing anything wrong deliberately and has appealed against the four year ban that UEFA have imposed on him. Unfortunately for Wenger, UEFA, under the guidance of WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) allow the result of a game to stand unless two or more players have committed violations. I don’t agree with Mr Wenger very often but in this case I do. To allow a result to stand when one of the players (Ademi played the full 90 minutes) seems a strange decision. Cheating should not be allowed, at all. Ok, so Zagreb face losing the player for four years but surely a more preventative punishment would be to lose the points from the game. Players, in my experience, place all of their trust in their club’s medical department and very rarely question their advice. If we are to believe Ademi, and he did not take anything deliberately, punishing the club, rather than the individual, would seem a better measure. This would ensure that clubs take responsibility for their players completely, and whatever ‘supplements’ they may be tempted to take. I can honestly say that in my sixteen year career, I never encountered any player taking performance enhancing drugs. Rumours of players taking recreational drugs, yes, but not performance enhancing.

England Rugby has appointed Stuart Lancaster’s successor after the bitter disappointment of the World Cup. There have been rumblings of discontent that we have appointed Eddie Jones, an Australian, as our new head coach. I firmly believe that you have to select the best man for the job, but as the English FA found out with ‘foreign’ appointments, it does not always work out. Sven Goran Errikson and Fabio Cappello have tried, and failed, to win a major football tournament for England. I am sure that they were probably amongst the best candidates at the time for the job, the problem is, when results go badly, the press is very quick to point out that they are not English and therefore do not understand our methods and ideals. The rugby press are not quite so brutal as their football counterparts but I hope they give him a chance before writing him off due to the fact that he wasn’t born in this country.

I recently attended Wembley for the England vs France friendly in the wake of the terrible events that happened in Paris. There was a lot of debate around the decision to play and I cannot pretend that I didn’t think twice about taking my family to the game. Congratulations must go both FA’s, the teams and the supporters for what was an emotional evening which was handled with courtesy and respect by all involved. I was proud to witness such solidarity and pleased I attended – after all sport does have many powers and proving unity is one.

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