Thursday, 15 January 2009

A year to the day and so....

After settling down on the couch today to watch the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship and some Horse Racing from Nad Al-Sheba in Dubai it stirred the memory.

This time last year I was there in person, both on the Golf course and at the Race track in the United Arab Emirates. As a spectator, not as a participant may I add.

It was Thursday January 17th 2008 and there I was, standing alongside Arab dignitaries and respected business men from around the world. Prominent jockeys like Johnny Murtagh, Lanfranco Dettori and Jamie Spencer were within winking distance as they strode around the parade ring under the spotlights.

The fundamental differences here compared to those courses on British soil were clearly evident - no beer dispensers and not one betting stall insight. Absolute must haves on our patch. Not over there, though. The Muslim state doesn't allow for that kind of nonsense. Maybe we could learn a thing or two from them. So there we were, polystyrene cups of tea in hand along with some local 'delicacy' similar to an onion bhaji but pretty much tasteless but full of grease. Splendid. There was also minimal security and no turnstiles or entrance fees, which I found bemusing but pleasantly surprising.

A surreal night of racing followed. I recall Dettori landing a winner on Lucky Find in the second last race. Again, another big difference was the sedate atmosphere. The locals sat near the track on the ground on home made rugs playing cards, not for money of course, that would be illegal. When the horses were homing in and cantering through the final furlong, instead of raucous cheers and hysteria the jockeys aboard their beasts received the odd wave here and there from the spectators, nothing more than that. I suppose the monstrous shouts at home racecourses come from punters who try and lend a hand and pass on that last ounce of energy onto the creatures they backed financially. I have no idea why the locals turned up to be honest. Maybe a chance to get out the house, maybe a chance to avoid the housework. It wasn't to watch high quality racehorses as they barely lifted their heads to see what was going on. The rest of the Carnival went on into March. We never stayed for the firworks of the main event where the American horse Curlin took the honours after romping home. Not only did the horse win the race in convinving style, its success made the owners $3.5million better off by scooping the pot in the Dubai World Cup. Pretty handy.

We made it to the Golf on the Saturday, the penultimate day. A lovely course set out on the fringes of Abu Dhabi with the majestic Sheikh Zayed mosque in the distance, the third biggest in the world and with the dominant club house built in the shape of a falcon, the national bird of the country.

Young German talent Michael Kaymer led through Saturday and eventually won the following day. The event was littered with snobbish, successful and rich Westerners, predominantly from the States and the UK.

Not really my scene. Pompous, ignorant know-it-all types lambasting the shots that landed a yard or two off target. And it was difficult to take those wearing bum bags seriously. Perhaps it's just the etiquette. It's one sport I wouldn't want to be associated with. I'll stick to my working class up-and-at-ya types.

A year on however, I'm sat in Leeds, in the rain and the squalor that surrounds it. Smart.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Kaka saga rumbles on..... But it isn't a new argument

What is it with traditionalists? Moaning and groaning about the intentions of the Super Rich at Manchester City Ltd and that it is against the invisible morals and ethics of English football?

Jealousy? Perhaps. We witnessed the crumbling Fulham surge through the divisions in the mid nineties and the way Mohamed Al-Fayed splattered his money around whilst Kevin Keegan was in charge brought about similar voices of discontent.

Fear? Perhaps. The consistent top four of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal could be challenged by the blue half of Manchester if the Abu Dhabi-based Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan continues to filter some of his fortune into his mediocre Premier League side.

A Chelsea fan I spoke to recently had the audacity to say that it was bad for English football..... How ridiculous. He was obviously suffering from an inability to recall recent memories of his own team. My response to his stinging tirade was simple, swift and incorporated two words. One was Julius Caesar's former Empire and another was a USSR sounding surname, as I would know it.

Yes, Roman Abramovich. The man responsible for Chelsea's dominance in recent years. Because Chelsea's success had nothing to do with his cash injections on world class players did it? Yeah right...

Then there's those who cry out in disgust at the wages the players 'earn' and the transfer fees parted with for such illustrious and in demand players.

I'm all for the big names and the big players if it is cost effective and makes good business sense. If the Kaka's and Ronaldo's of the world shoot their sides to glory and help their employer's from a commercial point then there is no argument from me. After all it is the owners of the club's who ultimately pay the wages. When a chief executive of a company manages to strike a multi-million pound deal for their company and receives a bumper bonus for themselves, we don't hear grumbles from the public about that.

The Premier League is a big business. Long gone are the days of breeding home grown talent to base the team around. That takes too long and is too risky. It's time to get used to it.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Will weekend success Leed to further glory?

Can Carlisle United's heroic-like 2-0 success at League One big cheeses Leeds United kick start their otherwise flailing season?

It'd be nice to think so. But I wouldn't hold my breath.

Continuing murmurs that leading scorer and main goal threat Danny Graham is on his way out of the club are not appeasing the cynical Cumbrian sides faithful followers, especially as he has settled into a groove with partner in crime Michael Bridges.

It was these two who put the 'mighty' Elland Road outfit to the sword. After surviving Leeds' 20-odd goal bound efforts, Tim Krul's goal lived a charmed life.

It was Krul who was the stand out player. A point blank save from a Luciano Becchio header, a smart save onto a post from the same player and umpteen fantastic aerial claims when under siege maintained a calm feel to the Blues' defence, which in the last three games has unbowed to pressure.

The problem with Krul is that he is on-loan from neighbours Newcastle United and is due to return after this weekends clash against high flying MK Dons.

The three successive clean sheets are of no coincidence to his coming of form. His aptitude is there to see, an imposing yet flamboyant figure, he has obvious class.

Will his current understudy and deputy Ben Williams be able to step back in and perform anywhere near as admirably as the lanky Dutch stopper?

My necks firmly out and from me it's a resounding 'No'.

Hopefully manager Greg Abbott will be able to conjure up a new deal with the Geordies to keep him that bit longer - until League One survival is guaranteed.

Away from the goalkeeping situation, solid performances from the back four can only breed confidence. Peter Murphy was calm, Danny Livesey strong in the challenge, David Raven cautious and Michael Liddle, although at times a little naive, was generally composed.

Cleveland Taylor, under pressure by the signing of fellow right winger Joe Anyinsah, set up the first goal and was at times, instrumental in the teams best moves, Jeff Smith looked sharp, Paul Thirlwell played the much sought after Fabien Delph out the game and Graham Kavanagh showed his class and experience, breaking up play and orchestrating from the centre.

Onto the match winners - Graham and Bridges - who both incidentally played for Leeds.

Graham held the ball up well and made several clever runs in behind the opponents back line. His efforts were rewarded with another goal, his fourteenth this term. Bridges is looking more fluent now he is getting games under his belt and scored after a swift and concise move against the side he starred for during their successful Champions League campaign eight years ago that saw them reach the semi finals.

With this in mind and the frequent chants of: "You're not famous anymore" and "Champions League and you f***** it up," would suggest to me that Leeds still are a renowned and dare I say it, famous club.

Of course they aren't scaling them dizzy heights of eight years ago but tradition, history and their high crowds are constant reminders of their prestige.

Perhaps it's time for the fans of Carlisle United and their other League One rivals to realise that Leeds are a big club but currently of no greater size or importance than the rest of those currently occupying positions in the third tier of England's professional league.

For Carlisle, long may this turn in fortune continue.