Saturday, 31 December 2011

My New Year resolutions

Some New Year resolutions:
1 Stop worrying about Robin van Persie's new contract.
2 Trust Jacques Kallis. I scored the first of my eight tons at 36.
3 Take it on the chin when he gets a ton at Newlands this week.
4 Take more road trips through South Africa, Garden Route and Meiringspoort were stunning.
5 Stop smoking. Fags may be cheap here but my lungs are expensive.
6 Leave the Peter Roebuck story alone. It's done. He's gone.
7 Leave my fellow sports journalists to their own devices. Enough already.
8 Make Scoop! South Africa's best-selling Sunday. There's a niche in the market.
9 Make Candidly Collins on eNews every Monday morning a must-watch.
10 Stop trying to bbq hamburgers and sausages. This is braai country.
11 Don't sound so smug when Chelsea and Man U lose. Only Spurs.
12 Don't got back to London for the 2012 Olympics. You know what the traffic will be like.
13 Erm.. .that's it. Any further suggestions below please!

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Axe Kallis? No, just give him a kick up the bum. And recognise the need for #axekallis

On Tuesday, when South Africa's 36-year-old all-rounder Jacques Kallis was out for a duck at Kingsmead, I cheekily tweeted: "Some all-rounder. Can't bat, can't bowl, sluggish in the field."
It was, as Cricket South Africa's general manager Niels Momberg so quickly spotted, an effort to stir debate rather than the death knell for a legend.
Sheez. The abuse I got. Had to go down to the beach on holiday here in Stil Baai to cool off.
Many of the Kallis fans were, rightly, indignant. He's had a great career, has the man from Pinelands in Cape Town. The sixteen years since his Test debut against England in December 1995 have featured a record 147 Tests with just over 12,000 runs at an average of nearly 57, plus the small matter of 317 ODI's with 11,000 runs at 45. A recored forty Test tons topped by that long-awaited double century against India at Centurion last year.
With the ball, he's taken well over 500 wickets in all formats, averaging just over 30. He has dominated the world's best all-rounder rankings for a decade, laughing at the efforts of England's over-hyped and over-the-hill Andrew Flintoff, a full year younger and long since retired to Dubai.
King Kalllis is not for the axe, tweeted the Rainbow Nation. South Africa's highest-scoring ODI and Test batsman must be left alone. And of course, they have a right to defend their talisman.
But sadly, he was born on 16 October 1975. That means he will be nearly 40 at the next cricket World Cup. Too old. Like the wobbling wicketkeeper Mark Boucher, 35.
So the subject has to be raised. Is Kallis, worrying floored by a nasty bouncer in the first Test against Sri Lanka at Centurion, losing it?
Tuesday's duck was followed by a wicketless bowling spell on Wednesday. Mention that and they come back with all sorts of stats about the pace he still musters with that creaking body. In two innings in Durban, Kallis bowled nine overs, 0-24 and 11 over 0-41.
But today, as South Africa battled to survive chasing a nonsensical 450 to win at cursed Kingsmead, he ducked out again. A first ever Test pair. Twenty unthreatening overs of seam-up dobblers. I crept back to the #axekallis trend. Kallis and Boucher have kept the all-rounder and wicketkeeper berths their own for so long, nobody can remember when they were challenged.
Like too many of the current Proteas, they are comfortable, complacent. No critisism in the press, no successors being groomed in the wings. It used to be like this in England. Then along came the critical former Test stars, the tabloid hacks, the harsh criticism, the penchant for using the ODI and T20 side to blood youngsters... and they're top of the pile now, the Souties.
Nobody is safe in English cricket. Ask Owais Shah, the talented all-rounder currently helping the Cobras win ever domestic trophy in South Africa. Or pace bowler Graeme Onions, who twice saved England from defeat as a tail-ender on tour here two years ago. Gone. Axed in their prime for being just short of the mark.
That's the point I was trying to make. But back come the insults, many of them unprintable here.
A fairly new factor in the life of the dedicated sports journalist is this personal abuse on twitter. That much is part of the job description now. You learn to take it, pretend it doesn't matter.
You dedicate your life to writing about sport, you take risks to stimulate debate, you know you're going to get it in the neck with today's social networks allowing everyone to wield an electronic pen that is mightier than the old hand-written swords.
Sometimes you're wrong. Kallis might have got a second innings ton. Boucher might have made more than seven. As I write, Dale Steyn may yet bat on for another day and a bit. I may even have to run naked along the beach if the Proteas do the unthinkable and win. You expect the odd embarrassment if you're a real sports journalist.
What you don't expect is to get abuse from your fellow hacks, comfortably drinking the former sponsor's product in the press box and writing about their freebies, their friends, their life rather than exploring the options, shaking things up.
Their response to the original suggestion that Kallis may soon be for the axe was as vitroilic as the Protea fans. One, who shall remain nameless, wrote: "**** rubbish. Kallis can play for South Africa for as long as he wants. He's a legend."
And really, that's what this blog is all about. The problem with cricket in this country may well be the cricket writers. No, Kallis can't carry on forever. No, he can't just expect to be picked until he's 104.
These are old-fashioned sycophants. Old-school South Africans who stick to cricket and rugby, ridicule local soccer. Scared to have a go at captain Graeme Smith last year when he failed to go for the throat against India. They all get on with Biff and his dad, don't want to upset the great man. Not too keen on replacing Mark Boucher, Kallis's next-door neighbour, in case they upset the applecart.
I've been there. Toured this wonderful country with England three times. It's tempting to take the easy option, to choose your allies and stick with them come what may.
But this lot go too far. Yes, they'll all have a go at Gerald Majola, the Cricket South Africa CEO, for his R1.9m bonus after the IPL - but nobody really minds if former boss Ali Bacher took R5m for his "retirement fund" after the 2003 World Cup. Not a word from the big papers when that little nugget emerged. And Bacher was the man who led the Proteas through the Hansie Cronje scandal without drawing a questioning glance. Who happily went from running rebel tours under Apartheid to running the show when South Africa returned to the international fold in 1991.
And these are the same guys who called for black armbands when cricket writer Peter Roebuck threw himself out of the window in Cape Town when confronted, finally, with policemen bringing charges of sexual abuse.
When I dared to warn one particular writer against eulogising a man with criminal convictions against three South African teenagers, it was ignored. So I wrote the truth. The abuse was rich and varied on that occasion too. Just have a look further down the blogs.
There are times as a sports journalist you have to stick your neck out, be the first to spot the fading talents of a superstar, to write about the grime when others prefer the lazy path of the status quo.
Like their cricket side, some of these cricketing hacks have been around too long. Complacent, lazy, unreconstructed, they have never broken a story, started a trend, in case they offend the legends of the game.
Legends? They can't even beat a Sri Lanka side struggling for their wages and without the sublime unorthodox genius of Muttiah Muralitharan or Lasith Malinga.
New Proteas coach Gary Kirsten, a World Cup winner with India earlier this year after the current South African legends collapsed against New Zealand, will doubtless do his work before the New Year Test, make the changes and kick the bottoms. He may even bring back the sensational Vernon Philander - who can bat a bit - to play with the dynamic debutant Marchant de Lange, opting to let AB De Villiers take the gloves at Newlands.
Or he may find out what happened to Ryan Canning, the Cobras wicketkeeper batsman now playing club cricket somewhere near Cape Town at the tender age of 26.
I don't expect Kallis to be axed. But I do expect a frank exchange between coach and King Kallis. And a few younger all-rounders to be checked out.
And less thoughtless invective when the right questions are asked. #axekallis. It had to be said.


Tuesday, 27 December 2011

A COUPLE of months ago, my predicted Premier League top four looked like this:
1 Manchester City's billionaires
2 Tottenham's 'Arry army
3 Manchester United
4 Robin van Persie's Arsenal
My crystal ball upset those of a Chelsea and Liverpool persuasion but after last night's Boxing Day resumption I'm tempted to stick with a first title for City (yes, Sir Alex, they ARE going to buy the title like Blackburn Rovers did with Alan Shearer and Co in 1995) finishing just ahead of a brilliantly reconstructed Spurs.
Tonight Redknapp's men go to Norwich City, who have coped well with promotion. They won't cope with Gareth Bale and Company at Carrow Road I'm afraid. And it's only just over two years since Spurs were languishing at the foot of the table under some Spaniard called Juande Ramos. Incredible.
Though a win will leave Spurs seven points adrift with a game in hand, Redknapp's men have neither the Champions League nor it's evil little brother the Europa League to worry about. I can honestly see them pushing City all the way and ending ahead of a strangely disjointed Man United.
Did you see them last night? A crushing 5-0 win over weary Wigan, with Bulgarian Dimitar Berbatov scoring a neat hat-trick. Wayne Rooney? Over-rated, over-weight. And rested for a match which saw United go level on points at the top with their sky blue neighbours.
Connor Sammon was sent off for a hand in the face on Michael Carrick and Berbatov was given a fairly dodgy penalty on a night when many will have seen referee Phil Dowd as Sir Alex Ferguson's habitual twelfth man in black. But that would be trite. United are far from a spent force - with Ryan Giggs proving 40 is the new 20 as he approaches an age when most have gone for the pipe and slippers years ago.
Remarkably, just as I predicted on South Africa's yesterday morning, Manchester City were held by Roy Hodgson's West Brom despite the huge gulf in economics between the two clubs. Did I ever tell you guys about me and Roy, Pretoria circa 1976? Yup, Hodgson started his coaching journey in Pretoria, now Tshwane, many years ago.
The Hawthornes very nearly witnessed a serious shock, but Jerome Thomas hit the post late on after Shane Long had inexplicably missed with a headed chance minutes earlier. City looked like millionaires - billionaires if you talk in South African rands - often do. Spoilt, brattish and lazy. Africa's newly-crowned player of the year Yaya Toure found himself chased down and frustrated. Mario Balotelli hit the bar (the wooden on across the top of the goal rather than the various bars in downtown Manchester) and generally enhanced his reputation as an arrogant entertainer rather than a deadly striker.
Given an Arsenal win against lowly Wolves tonight - Robin van Persie needs two goals to equal Alan Shearer's all-time record of 36 in a calendar year - the top four will be much as I predicted. City lose the Toure brothers to the African Nations Cup soon, which won't help their quest - while Arsenal are threatening to sign legendary top-scorer Thierry Henry on loan to help them over the period with Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh off on their CAF duties.
But just below the top four, the battle for Champions League qualification rages. Rock-bottom Blackburn produced two heroes in the last minute of their epic - and surprising - 1-1 draw at Liverpool.
Charlie Adam's own goal put Rovers and under-pressure boss Steve Kean ahead just before half-time but Maxi Rodriguez levelled to give the Reds hope. But in the final minutes with Stevie Gerrard on as a back-from-injury-saviour-sub, stand-in goalkeeper Mark Bunn produced a stupendous save to deny Andy Carroll and teenager Adam Henley made a brilliant goal-line clearance to secure the point.
Chelsea had it just as tough. With John Terry doing a lot better than Luis Suarez under the racism spotlight, they went ahead against Fulham but everyone's favourite American Clint Dempsey secured a point for the Cottagers. Fernando Torres? He produced an excellent early volley which deserved a long-awaited fourth goal for the Blues, but was brilliantly denied.
With 11 points between his side and the Mancunians at the top, Chelsea's 34-year-old boss Andre Villas-Boas appeared to throw in the towel. He said: The former Porto coach showed his inexperience, admitting to the BBC: "The difference between us and the top will be big.
"With City and United continuing to get the points they are getting at the moment, it'll be difficult.
"We have to focus on our position at the moment and make a real assessment. Maybe the Premier League is over for us at the moment."
Down at the bottom, Bolton eventually crumbled to a 2-0 defeat against Newcastle - their first win in six - while QPR go to Swansea tonight.
And the award for the least festive of the Boxing Day games? That goes to Aston Villa and Stoke City, who made so many bleary-eyed post-Xmas football fans stay up late for a match which deserved a place in South Africa's Premier League. No imagination, no craft, no guile.
And come to think of it... why haven't we got a range of fascinating Boxing Day fixtures on the menu in South Africa? Do we really have to wait six weeks for a resumption of the Absa Premiership? Madness.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

South Africa ear-marked for Grand Prix in 2013: Bernie has spoken

BERNIE Ecclestone confirmed last Friday that South Africa are right back on track to host a Grand Prix in 2013.
The controversial Formula One supremo, confirming that his rubber-burning circus would return to the United States after a five-year absence, has been hinting at a return to the tip of Africa for some months.
Today (December 20), South Africa's excellent eNews channel have announced Cape Town could host a Grand Prix the year after next - but that is old news to readers of South Africa's new Sunday tabloid Scoop!
I quoted Ecclestone confirming the 2013 situation last Sunday. And two weeks ago in Scoop! I reported that Ecclestone was looking to expand to Russia, Mexico and South Africa when he said: “Europe is finished. We will reduce the European races from seven to five.”
The pint-sized 81-year-old billionaire had suggested next year’s US race scheduled for a brand new circuit in Texas would never make it.
But on Saturday he told the BBC that Austin would go ahead on November 18 next year, with a second US race planned for New Jersey from 2013.
Ecclestone, 81, told Al Jazeera English: “The US has been slow to get F1 because they want to see a profit before they start.”
Then he spoke of a South African race from 2013 and insisted F1 would return to Bahrain next year after the cancellation of the 2011 grand prix.
Talking to veteran British broadcaster Sir David Frost, he said: “Formula 1 will not be big in America. But Formula 1 will be in Russia for 2014, and in South Africa by 2013 even.”
Ecclestone, the son of a fisherman who left school to race motorbikes aged 16, insists Bahrain remains an option despite continuing unrest in the country. He said: “We’re happy to go there if we are invited, we’ll be delighted.”
Cape Town lead the race to host a South African Grand Prix, with a consortium set to meet sports minister Fikile Mbalula over possible government back­ing for a notoriously expensive venture.
Mbalula said last week: “Their F1 proposal has come across my desk but we have not sat down. I hope to have a proper sitdown before Christmas to get a full briefing. At the moment I don’t want to put the cart before the horse.”
South Africa last hosted a Grand Prix at the Kyalami circuit near Midrand in 1993.
Confirming the return to the US, Ecclestone said: “Yes, there will be a race in Austin and we hope it will be there for the next 10 years.”
Representatives from Austin ­reached an agreement with F1 officials hours before the World Motor Sports Council met in New Delhi to approve the 2012 F1 ­racing calendar.
Red McCombs, the man behind Austin’s Grand Prix adventure, confirmed last week: “Mr Ecclestone received his cheque today for the USGP. We want to thank the fans supporting us, the local officials and businesses that have encouraged us, the state of Texas, Circuit of The Americas’ staff and Bernie himself.”
But just a month ago, Austin’s Grand Prix deal seemed so uncertain that officials halted work on the $300-million (R24 billion) 3.4 mile (4.2 km) circuit near the Texan capital.
That's typical of the way Formula One runs under Ecclestone. Even today on eNews, Cape Town Grand Prix consortium spokesmen were confirming they have a long way to go before talk of 2013 becomes official - but Bernie, as always, can scent a lucrative new venue before they're even on the grid.
For comments from Cape Town consortium on this story:!/capetowngrandprix/posts/273997419316924?notif_t=feed_comment

Thursday, 15 December 2011

O Little Town of Bethlehem: all you ever needed to know about Free State Stars

Home to the Stars: Bethlehem in the Free State
O little town of Bethlehem/How still we see thee lie/Above thy deep and dreamless sleep/The silent stars go by.

And there’s more, don’t go away, this really is a footballing tale of note …

Yet in thy dark streets shineth/The everlasting Light/The hopes and fears of all the years/Are met in thee tonight

Yes, Bethlehem. Birth place of the legendary Jesus H Christ? No, Bethlehem in the Free State actually. Population 66,704. Home of a whole constellation of silent stars from all over Africa who go under the collective name of Free State Stars.

When Rector Phillips Brooks (1835-1903) of Philadelphia, wrote the words to O Little Town of Bethlehem in 1868, following a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he probably didn’t envisage it would precise a footballing miracle nearly 150 years later.

But it does. Neatly, for a side whose goalkeeper has scored as many League goals this season as Benni McCarthy.

Nestled on Liebenbergs Vlei, along a fertile valley just south of the Rooiberg Mountains on the N5 highway, our modest All Stars have fashioned a football team which has taken the Rainbow Nation by storm this summer. Currently third in the South Africa Premier League, they are out-gunning the giants of Soweto, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates. Only Gavin Hunt’s gritty Supersports United and the millionaires of Mamelodi Sundowns currently outshine Steve Komphela’s All Stars.

In winter, it can be the chilliest place in the country. At an altitude of 1700m, temperatures have been known to plummet to a frosty 11 degrees below zero in July. Yes, the toe-numbing climate goes against the grain but hey, the place is named after its wheat granaries, hence "Beit Lechem" (Hebrew for "house of bread").

They play their home games at versatile Goble Park – capacity 20,000, Free State hosted two first class cricket games there in the 1930s - the local township is called Bohlokong (Sesotho for "place of pain") and they expected a bit of discomfort at Soccer City last night (Saturday, 17 December), when they came up against Kaizer Motaung’s gold-and-black striped Amakhosi, level with Ea Lla Koto on 24 points, just four adrift of top dogs Supersport.

But fear not, defeat cannot dim the light cast in Bethlehem this Christmas. Their final game before the Festive break comes against the formidable Sundowns, but you won’t find Stars’ general manager Rantsi Mokoena chewing his nails. He told the club’s website: "Our team is a work in progress – but the truth is, I expect us to maintain our form.

“It is not a fluke we are third in the table. A fluke is when you win three or four games and people make noise about that and then you lose five games. We have won four and drawn the other one in the past five matches and that is consistency.

"We have retained players that traditionally we could have sold. We didn't have Paulus Masehe and Manti Moholo when we beat Maritzburg United away from home, but we got the three points.

"Previously, we could have been rattled if we didn't have those players, but now we say 'let's go there and get the three points', confidently so.

"There are players such as Mpho Makola – what a player he is – and Thabo Matlaba, who haven't seen a lot of game-time. We rate Thabo very highly, but we are sitting among the top teams without him.

"To show you the kind of confidence we show in our players, have a look at Rudiger Gilbert. He kept disappearing last season and made just 10 appearances. He did some introspection and realised he couldn't carry on like that.

“To be fair, the boy's mother was seriously ill last season and eventually passed away and I think that really disturbed him. Now he is having his best season in football, he has missed just one game all season and that was through suspension.

“Facilities are a big challenge here but from a privacy point of view, training at the local army base works for us.”

The Stars one problem? Referees. Boss Komphela, a former Kaizer Chief with a lengthy CV in South African footballing circles (Baby Bafana, Manning Rangers, Platinum Stars and Dynamos amongst others), says: “We are a small team, we do not complain about referees, instead we use them as motivation. We have had at least five points stolen from us this season by decisions (a goal unfairly denied against Platinum Stars and two goals against both Supersport and local rivals Bloemfontein Celtic) but referees are human.

“If a mistake is a deliberate act, then it raises suspicions. But we are on track. I am aiming for two points against Chiefs and Sundowns. We have capable players who can go all the way.

“The West African players our scouts found at a tournament up north have stabilised the team in all departments. Mix them with the local boys and we have a very competent outfit.”

Originally founded in 1977 as Makwane Computer Stars in a small village in Qwa-Qwa, the club gained promotion into the 1st division of the NPSL in 1986.

Sponsorship was secured from Fairways Supermarket and the side moved from Makwane to Phuthadithjaba, the hub of Qwa-Qwas`s economy. As Fairways Stars, the side grew in popularity and eventually became Qwa Qwa Stars with the Basotho slogan “Ea Lla Kotto” or ”fight to the end”.

The club's franchise was sold to the Premier Soccer League in 2002. A year later, Mike Mokoena revived the club and and in 2005, as Free State Stars, they were back in the Premiership after winning the Mvela Golden League.

They went straight back down but battled back to secure their top flight status in 2007–08. They list coach Komphela as their most-capped Bafana Bafana player with 10 international appearances (he actually won 24) and Bunene Ngaduana as the club’s historic top scorer with 79 goals (he scored 19 in 1993) while they list a record defeat of 7-1 against a certain Mamelodi Sundowns in 1998.

So what else can we tell you about the current side, who practice at the local defence force base and get changed in the car park before training? I can offer their captain Kennedy Mweene, a Zambian goalkeeper who likes to take penalties. He’s scored three times from the spot this season, which puts him level it a certain Mr McCarthy and Stars’ top scorer Katlego Mashego in the SAPL top-scorers’ list so far.

Mweene says on the club’s website “I am confident that we will reach 30 points before the Christmas break and that despite having to play the so called big teams and with the mood and confidence high in the camp I see nobody stopping us.

“In the past season we used to drop points with the “smaller” teams but tables have turned, we have been beating them left right and centre and playing Chiefs and Sundowns back-to-back is a motivation on its own.

“This is one of our best starts in a very long time and we have laid a good foundation and thanks to the management, technical team and players for their contribution in the club success this season and anything is possible. We could even win the league.”

Like most of the squad, Mweene learned his trade on dusty foreign fields. Training in front of soldiers with automatic weapons is no great shakes. A scouting mission to the West African Football Union tournament pre-season yielded a crop of Togolese stars – striker Morou Zakari, full back Sadate Akoriko and midfielder Dove Wome. From Nigeria, there’s top scorer David Agbagwu – just called up for their U23 Olympic squad - plus the currently injured international centre-back Soriala Gege.

While they will miss Gege in their final two games of the year, Agbagwu is bubbling with confidence. After stints with FC Bolowotan and FC Eko United in Lagos, he secured a moved to CD Athletico Baleares in the Spanish Segunda (second) division, where he recalls: “We used the ball a lot, my coach encouraged a lot of ball work at training because he had himself played for Barcelona before. The game is not as fast as the English Premier League or Italian Seria A but very much about slow build-ups with a killer finish. I enjoyed the lifestyle as well, there's a lot of good food and good weather there.”

Then came the move to Bethlehem via Ajax Cape Town, where, the 22-year-old says: “I would like to score goals for the Stars as they have shown belief in my talent. If all goes well, I want to do so well that I rise steadily until I turn out for either Manchester United or Barcelona.”

Lofty ambitions. But the dark and dreamless streets from Bethlehem to Barcelona have rarely looked shinier.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Tinkler laughs off 'ridiculous' McCarthy, Klate wants African Champions League

Point taken: Benni McCarthy at half-time on Saturday night in Durban
Eric Tinkler laughed off the Benni McCarthy storm yesterday, insisting: “Benni wishes he could have slapped me! He’s being ridiculous.”

Tinkler, now 41, won 40 caps for South Africa in a career which took him from humble beginnings in Roodepoort to Vitória de Setúbal and União de Tomar in Portugal, Cagliari in Italy and Barnsley in England.

Now Roger da Sa’s assistant coach at Wits, Tinkler and McCarthy – former Bafana Bafana team-mates – came perilously close to blows at half-time during Orlando Pirates’ 3-1 Telkom Knock-out final triumph in Durban on Saturday night.

But Tinkler, a combative defensive midfielder in his playing days, told football365: “Benni was having an argument with one of our players Zane Mngomezulu. I stepped in to separate them and Benni didn't like the fact that I touched him.

"He shoved me in the face and he swore at me. I swore at him and it didn't go any further than that. People are just making a big thing out of nothing.

"Benni is being stupid about it; you know what I'm saying. That Benni could have slapped me is being ridiculous. He wishes he could have slapped me! I don't want to go into things like that. Obviously tempers were flaring at halftime you know and that's what you get. It is part of the game.

"People have banter on the field and you just have to be grown up enough to accept it and move on or be more professional about it.”

At one point, Da Sa asked McCarthy, South Africa's top scoring striker, if he was being “paid by the kilogram” – a reference to Benni being fined twice over his fatness levels at English club West Ham last season before being paid to leave Upton Park. Da Sa said: “After the game when I went to shake Benni’s hand, he told me to piss off. So I told him he’s got three brain cells.”

In an sparky post-final outburst after helping Orlando Pirates to a clean sweep of domestic trophies, the new slimline McCarthy, who caused Wits problems all night, said: "I even forgot Tinkler and I played together in the national team. He tried to be smart so I had to put him in his place because when you as a player are getting pushed around left, right and centre by the opposing coaches, then me, I must defend myself. He is lucky I didn't slap him."

Meanwhile Buccaneer Daine Klate, man of the match after his goal-scoring performance at the Moses Mabhida Stadium, told me this morning that Orlando Pirates are fully focussed on the African Champions League after their Telkom triumph.

Speaking on eTV Sunrise, Klate said: “I know we’ve got the Angolans (Recrativo Libolo) and we know it will be difficult. But we are also aware of how Bafana and Baby Bafana both failed to qualify for their tournaments in recent weeks.

“We are going to take this tournament seriously, our technical people will be using footage of their games to find out all about them. If we go through, we’ve got Sunshine Stars in Nigeria next. It would be great to go a long way in the competition.

“I’m not saying we will win it (Pirates were the last South African club to lift the African Champions League in 1995) but we will be out to restore South Africa’s footballing pride.”

Klate, born in Gelvandale in Port Elizabeth, has now won every major honour in South African football. Capped 10 times by Bafana Bafana, he started his career as a 19-year-old at Supersports United and won three successive League-winners medals.

He followed that with another League success at Pirates in last season’s treble-winning season, adding the Telkom on Saturday. But the 26-year-old recalls: “When I first arrived at Supersports United, I was a bit scared of Gavin Hunt, but he taught me a lot on and off the pitch.

“It was a big decision to leave Gavin, Pirates hadn’t won anything for ages, but I know I’m a winner. And it’s good to make an impact.”

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Sunday, 11 December 2011

Itumeleng Khune: South Africa's mysterious disappearing goalkeeper. Anybody seen him?

Remember me? Itumeleng Khune, SA's No1
Has anybody seen Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune? I mean, actually seen him as opposed to reading a club statement about his current state of fitness? It's been over two months. And apparently he's going to "start training on his own in January, with a comeback in February."

While all eyes in South African football were on last night’s Telkom Knock-out final which saw Orlando Pirates crush Wits 3-1 (Daine Klate, Port Elizabeth's greatest footballing export, take a bow), rival Kaizer Chiefs fans have spent recent weeks – no, months - wondering what has happened to Khune, South Africa’s first choice goalkeeper during the World Cup here last year. Brilliant reflex keeper, superb distributor, wanted by Nottingham Forest last I heard.
But he's gone. Vanished off the face of the earth. If you're out there mate, email me: No questions asked.
In a nation which boasts, according to marketing estimates, 14 million ardent Amakhosi fans, the gold-and-black brand has been having serious problems. A storm over Jimmy Tau’s captaincy was followed by accusations of nepotism against Kaizer Motaung’s family-run business. And then Khune went AWOL days after being castigated for wasting time in South Africa’s catastrophic 0-0 draw against Sierra Leone on October 8, at around the same time the Amakhosi's general manager Bobby "CV" Motuang was announcing him as their new captain.
Roused by a squeaky 1-0 win over Mamelodi Sundowns last Sunday, head coach Vladimir Vermezovic is only too aware how much his side needs a consistent No1.
Last week at Loftus Versfeld, that man was Arthur Bartman, a 39-year-old journeyman whose career started at African Wanderers way back in 1995. Man of the match for a series of astounding saves, Vermezovic claimed Bartman was in discussions with Chiefs over a new contract.
Worryingly, that’s the first Bartman had heard of those talks, though he's now apparently considering signing on for another season.
So while VV, under huge pressure before last week’s win over a Sundowns side hunting top spot, promises: “We will go all out for the title,” discriminating Amakhosi fans are more worried about the sudden disappearance of Khune, the darling of Naturena as any regular reader of Twitter will attest (does SABC's model presenter @MinnieDlamini know where he is?).
With Chiefs currently fourth in the SAPL with 24 points from 14 games, VV said: “It is our main goal to win the title this season. It is not good for a big club like Chiefs to not have won the title for such a long time. We have made this our main objective this season.”
Of course they have. But while VV told the fans “I want to thank them for being our 12th player” concerns over Khune grow before the gold-and-black striped “Zebras” conclude their year against Free State Stars at Soccer City and AmaZulu in Durban.
All that is known is this. Khune was reported to have gone down with pneumonia on or about October 10, while questions over Bafana’s farcical failure to reach the African Nations Cup finals were still raging across the nation. Our last view of the mineworker’s son from Tshing near Ventersdorp was that sad dance the players engaged in, when SAFA still thought their boys had qualified for Gabon and Equatorial Guinea next year.
Then, over a month later, we were told Khune, the 24-year-old who grew up idolising South Africa’s cricketers, had a groin strain. In British football, a “groin strain” is often a spurious injury invented to hide deeper concerns over a player’s future. There was talk of an operation and a further two month hiatus.
As the mysterious disappearance deepened, the club released a statement on Khune last week – and claim he will be back in action some time in Febuary.
They do not mention whether he had surgery on that groin and quote him as saying: "I'm recovering well from my injury. I'm getting there. It is frustrating, but I guess each and every player has to go through this in his career at some point.
"I will be back sometime in February. In fact, I will return early in January to start training on my own and then join the rest of the team in February.”
And, apart from revealing both Khune and Siphiwe Tshabalala are currently negotiating new contracts, that’s it. Did they speak to him in person, or did Chiefs release a statement to ease concerns over their goalkeeper? And if he's fine, why are they thinking of adding 23-year-old  goalkeeper Carl Bauerrichter to a well-stocked glove compartment which already includes Kabelo Metsimetsi, Thela Ngobeni and Bartman (who is still mulling over that new contract)?
Either way, four sentences are not really enough to explain a five-month absence of South Africa's finest goalkeeper in my book. But get well soon, Itumeleng. The 14 million Amakhosi need you.

This story appeared in the exciting new Sunday newspaper Scoop! in South Africa yesterday. Have a look at And buy it every week.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Match fixing: Dinamo Zagreb may have gone too far this time. Football will never be the same again.

I first wrote the dreadful words “match fixing” this week about ten minutes in to Chelsea’s Champions League clash with Valencia on Tuesday night. Then I tweeted #matchfixing again and again as I witnessed one of Spain’s top sides simply fail to bother at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea duly won 3-0, Valencia’s beaten troops left without visible disappointment at their abject failure and presto! Through comes the news that Bayer Leverkusen could only draw with hopeless Belgians Genk and Roman Abramovich, with all those roubles to his name, had the pleasure of seeing his Chelsea top their group. Out of the blue, so to speak.

Wednesday night, I flicked over from Manchester United’s appalling display at Basle to see Ajax Amsterdam denied not once but twice by an assistant referee against Real Madrid. Again. #matchfixing flew off my keyboard and in to the world of twitter (check my timeline,, it’s all there, including the vehement denials from those who don't understand what they're seeing).

And at Dinamo Zagreb, the powerhouse of Croatian football, Lyon were able to score seven goals in 28 minutes (yup, a goal every four minutes, that’s some going) to confirm their progress at Ajax’s expence. I’ve just seen a video of the so-called highlights. No tackles, no recriminations… and, incredibly, there’s one of the Dinamo lads, Domagoj Vida, giving a cheeky wink after the sixth goal.

Lyon "triumphed" 7-1 away. They scored just two goals in their first five Champions League matches – none in their last three. And while Ajax failed with a bit of help from as assistant linesman against Real Madrid, Lyon were through.

Dinamo sacked their manager Krunoslav Jurcic straight after the final whistle. A week ago they were planning for a bright future, with their side six points clear at the top of the Croatian league.

#matchfixing, #matchfixing, #matchfixing.

Afterwards, Ajax coach Frank de Boer said: "They won 7-1? Maybe I'm naive when I think it normally doesn't work like this, but if Zagreb gave the match away they should be punished. But I think it is hard to find any evidence."

Yup, #matchfixing.
Everybody thought I was bonkers. I probably am. Driven to madness by failing to realise Hansie Cronje was manipulating us all at SuperSports Park in Centurion in early 2000, when he and Nasser Hussain forfeited an innings each to manufacture a result after three days of rain in the final Test between England and South Africa.

I thought it was a great idea. So did the Fordsburg bookmaker called Banjo, who paid the now-dead Hansie to do it. He did a lot of that, dear old born-again Hansie. May he rest in peace.

Then there was the time Marseille had to score six goals against CSKA Moscow in the early 90s to get through to the early Champions League semi-finals. No problem. Turned out Bernard Tapie, the Marseille boss, had paid the goalkeeper. And I remember seeing the great Ghanaian Abedi Pele have a hopeful punt from 40 yards. Goal. Right through his arms.

On both those occasions, and several since (Pakistan’s spot fixing at Lord’s last year was another) I’ve seen things in a press box and wondered. But then I’ve stifled that doubt and written a straight match report with quotes.

Then there was that curious story a few weeks ago. Wayne Rooney's family members arrested for betting on a red card being brandished in a Scottish League match. Anybody heard anything since? Anybody think top footballers don't talk about these things all the time? But nobody dares to write about it.

Lyon's response? This: And UEFA appear reluctant to act, despite obvious evidence. Nobody will say a word in public.

It’s time for that to stop. There’s match fixing afoot at the highest level of the Champions League. I can’t prove it, but I can feel it. So can UEFA. Expect an investigation and few fines. God I wish I was wrong. Watching football will never be the same again.

Help yourself: Domagoj Vida of Dinamo winks during his side's 7-1 defeat at the hands of Lyon on Wednesday night
Keep up to date with the match-fixing investigation: and

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, the pint-sized son of a fisherman, decides Europe is finished

For a little man, Bernie Ecclestone creates big waves. As Grand Prix grumblers ruminate over another one-horse race of a season, the man known around the world as “Mr Formula One” needed three words to stir up the petrolheads: “Europe is finished”.

But before South Africans – still dreaming of a Grand Prix back at Kyalami for the first time since 1993 or on the streets of Cape Town – start getting their hopes up, let’s examine this strange bod who runs Formula One with a small but perfectly formed iron fist.

Ecclestone stands just 5ft 2in (1.59m) high. He was born in a tiny village on the coast of Suffolk, the son of a fisherman. He left school at 16 to work at the local gasworks and tinker with the motorcycles he loved. His machinations in the motor-racing world since then have seen the little man rise from 38th to 25th in the Sunday Times list of the world’s richest people. They estimate his worth at 2.5billion (R35bn), with earnings of 25million (R30m) a year.

Not bad for the uneducated son of a fisherman.

There was a stage when he actually drove racing cars – but that was just after the second World War, and he collided during a Formula Three race at Brand’s Hatch and ended up in a neighbouring car park.

Ever the pragmatist, Ecclestone moved seamlessly into team ownership with Connaught, Cooper and Brabham before setting up the Formula One Constructors Association with Frank Williams, Colin Chapman, Teddy Mayer, Ken Tyrrell, and a very interesting chap called Max Mosley (google him, fascinating).

Television rights soon became a major earner and as he rose in power (but not always popularity) Bernie started to realise people would pay good money to host Formula One Grands Prix around the world.

This quote from former World Champion Damon Hill, now representing England’s Silverstone track, perhaps sums up the problem: "There's always been the question of the FOM fee, and ultimately that is the deciding factor. To quote Bernie, he once said: 'You can have anything you like, as long as you pay too much for it,' but we can't pay too much for something... The problem is money goes out and away. There's a question whether that money even returns to Formula One."

Now, less than a week after the end of a supremely boring 2011 season – won, way back in October, by a runaway train called Sebastian Vettel – Ecclestone is putting the squeeze on the Europeans, who have always been reluctant to splash the cash on hosting a sport which already requires a major financial outlay just to stay afloat, as Kyalami’s owners found out twenty years ago.

Given the current economic crisis in England, Spain, Portugal and just about every creaking continental country, Berne’s timing is, as usual, impeccable. With one eye on bright, shiny new nations like Mexico, South Africa and Russia, he told the world this week: "I think in the next few years Europe will be left with only five races. I think Europe is finished. It will be a good place for tourism but little else. Europe is a thing of the past."

Nice work, Bernie. With the likes of India, Korea, Malaysia and Abu Dhabi already on board, he is willing to overlook minor inconveniences like popular uprisings in Bahrain while worrying about the finances of the planned US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas next year.

It looks like the Yanks won’t come up with the money. So where do we go next? "Russia for sure, we have a contract there.” Bernie grins, “Maybe South Africa, Mexico.”

But surely Europe, with names like Fangio, two Hills, Schumacher, Mansell, Alonso and Vettel to conjure with, will always be the spiritual home of the fastest men in the world? Bernie sneers: "It used to be."

Next season, there are eight scheduled races in Europe. England, Italy, Germany, Belgium and Monaco are classics. France and their historic Magny Cours lay-out are long gone. The Spanish must fear for their double-header – Barcelona can expect to go before Valencia – while Hungary’s Budapest may also be in doubt, assuming Ecclestone sticks with the five big ones in Europe – he has already posed questions about the future development of Silverstone.

Bernie’s proposed reduction of European involvement to five out of twenty races won’t make him popular in the traditional heartlands of Formula One – though South Africans would be over the moon if a fairy godmother came up with the billions necessary to attract a Grand Prix in the modern age.

But Ecclestone won’t be derailed. Like the other great sporting dictators – Sepp Blatter springs to mind – he knows the big money lies in new, hungry nations. Countries that spend money like water while taking their eye off the needs of the common people.

And he’s a hardy soul. He needed a triple coronary bypass in 1999. He had two wheels stolen off his brand new Mercedes CLS55 AMG in London in 2005, the same year he caused a bit of stir when he said of Danica Patrick's fourth-place finish at the Indianapolis 500: "She did a good job, didn't she? Super. Didn't think she'd be able to make it like that. You know, I've got one of these wonderful ideas that women should be all dressed in white like all the other domestic appliances."

Two days later, Ecclestone saw 14 of 20 cars refuse to race in the 2005 United States Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway amid concern over the safety of their Michelin tyres. Six cars eventually raced. But the Formula One circus continued unfazed.

On 21 July 2007, Ecclestone said he was going to buy Arsenal… he ended up with QPR. Now he wants to buy Saab from the Swedes. It appears nothing can stop the little man with the big wives and model daughters (at this point, have a quick look at the images of Petra Ecclestone. Phwoar!).

Not that Bernie worries too much. On 24 November last year, he and girlfriend Fabiana Flosi were ambushed by four men who robbed them of jewellery worth £200,000 and handed Ecclestone what he later called “a good whacking”.

Ecclestone’s response after being released from hospital? "I see a figure of £200,000 mentioned but that is b******s. They won't be going far on what they took off us."

If nothing else, Bernard Charles Ecclestone is a survivor. But whether that’s good news for Formula One, particularly South Africans hoping for a vroom with a view, is questionable.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Joost van der Westhuizen: Poisoned by the fertilizer he licked from his fingers?

JOOST van der Westhuizen believes he may have contracted an incurable disease by LICKING HIS FINGERS.
The former Springbok scrum-half, who admits he may be confined to a wheelchair “within six months” revealed that fertilizer and line-markings on rugby fields could be responsible for his incurable condition, known as “amyo-trophic lateral sclerosis” or ALS.
Joost, 40, was asked how much exposure to such materials he had suffered when he was treated by US specialist Dr Eric Pioro in Cleveland earlier this year.
Blou Bulls legend Van der Westhuizen, who now has “an 80 percent life expectancy of two to five years” explained: "Dr Pioro told me about an Italian soccer team who have six players suffering from ALS. The link hasn’t been proven yet but the doctor said they are looking at fertiliser and the line markings on sports fields being a contributor to coming down with ALS – he said there is also a high incidence of the same problem among American farmers.
"Okay, I spent some time on the arms as a small boy, but then it struck me: from the age of five I have been playing rugby, handling the ball. And what did I do before feeding a scrum or passing? I licked my fingers.”
According to Dan Retief, the vastly experienced Sunday Times rugby writer , Van der Westhuizen slurred slightly when he added: "I'm lucky I can still walk. My speech is affected. Both my arms are weak and my right leg causes me to limp.
"I was diagnosed with ALS just over a year ago and was told then that I could expect two years of quality life before the bad stuff sets in. Your body just gets weaker, but your mind stays 100%.
"However, I'm lucky in that I can still look after myself although everything I do takes twice as long."
Talking at a fund-raising function last week in Johannesburg, Joost admits he is terrified by the idea of never seeing his children – Kylie, 5, and Jordan, 7, grow up. He says: “I’m tormented by the idea I will not be there for them. At times it has been emotionally terrible for me. And for my parents, especially my dad."
When he discovered he had contracted an incurable disease 13 months ago, he recalls: “I asked myself: ‘Why me?' And the answer came, 'Why not me?' ... it registered with me that if this is the cross I have to bear to help future generations then I'll do it.”
Joost, star of an infamous video tape in February, 2009 involving a woman and drugs which destroyed his marriage to singer Amore Vittone, confesses: "I was a person who got away with a lot of things, I was arrogant and I can see that it was wrong.”
Capped 89 times by the Boks, Joost saw his record of 38 tries broken by Bryan Habana during the World Cup. At the time, Habana said: "It's a great privilege and honor to go past such a great player, and I hope this gives Joost a boost to get through what he's going through. The whole team is very empathetic to what he's going through and we send all our best to him."
Joost confesses: "When I was diagnosed I had to drag myself out of it. Was I going to lie around at home and deteriorate quickly, or was I going to be as busy as possible and surround myself with positive people?
"The amazing brotherhood of rugby was a great help to me. Andre Venter [the former Springbok flanker currently in a wheelchair with the spinal disorder transverse myelitis] contacted me and just said: 'Buddy, together we'll get through this,' and I've received letters of support from all over the world. Now I’m in a good place.”
This story also appeared as the lead on the new South African Sunday paper SCOOP! today, available at all good newsagents and street corners. See

Thursday, 1 December 2011

From El Nino to El OhNo: Fernando Torres, the British record signing has forgotten what it's all about

Fernando Torres. Britain’s record signing. There he was on Tuesday night, apparently playing for Chelsea. I think. He was wearing blue and had his boots on as he strolled around Stamford Bridge while Liverpool were knocking them out of the Carling Cup.
Liverpool fans loved every moment of course. They would. He was quite something for them before last year’s World Cup slump… and they got a whopping 50m (R500m) - more than doubling the 20m they paid for him - for the former Atletico Madrid striker when Chelsea made their deadline day move in January.
You could almost understand Roman Abramovich’s eagerness to break the bank (and ruin his club’s carefully planned UEFA-friendly budget) when you look at the stats for the 27-year-old who has regrown his long golden locks since the World Cup, but failed to refind his form.
At Atletico from 2001–2007 he was a budding sensation, scoring 82 goals in 214 games. At Liverpool he managed a near-sensational 65 in 102 games after his move to England in 2007. Reds will remember his first season with some fondness: 33 goals in 46 appearances. El Nino they called him then. These days he’s more of an El Nincompoop.
But at Chelsea he has three goals from 24 games. Yes. Three. Some grandmothers of my acquaintance have a higher annual scoring rate. In all competitions, he’s managed five in 32 while down the road, Robin van Persie is banging them in at a goal a game - under far more pressure at Arsenal than Torres generally faces at Chelsea.
Andy Townsend, the former Chelsea midfielder who performs with some aplomb as the resident analyst on the Premier League’s international channel every week (for South Africans, he’s the one who sits on the far right with the rugged look) has a bit to say about Mr Torres in his Daily Mail column this week.
Townsend says: “When I look at him, I see another Roman Pavlyuchenko (the rusty Russian at Spurs) - a striker who knows he is fourth choice and who looks as if he would rather be anywhere else.
“There is no nuisance value in Torres. He doesn’t rattle the centre half, chase lost causes into the corner, crash into the first row of seats after running down the full back. He’s not scoring, so what does he give the team?”
With the world’s youngest boss Andre Villas-Boas under huge pressure following Tuesday night’s defeat – the Blues have now lost three times in their last four home games – perhaps it’s time Torres at least gave the appearance of caring.
Mind you, with chairman Abramovich involved in a Russian heavyweight clash against Boris Berezovsky in the High Court, fellow striker Didier Drogba desperately seeking a move and captain John Terry being probed by the police for racist abuse, perhaps Torres is just hoping nobody will notice.
Townsend says: “You feel like watching Fernando’s matches from behind the sofa; it’s the nightmare that doesn’t seem to end.”
Torres isn’t the first striker to be cast in “A Stamford Bridge too far”… Townsend picks out a few corkers who have worn blue and turned to goo: Robert Fleck, Chris Sutton, Mateja Kezman, Andriy Shevchenko and Hernan Crespo to name but five. Nicolas Anelka has hardly sparkled while older readers may remember Adrian Mutu, the Romanian who left Chelsea under a distinctly dodgy white cloud.
Townsend concludes: “Only two people can resolve this – Torres must rediscover his form and his joy of football or can Abramovich, find a club to buy him?”
Come on Andy, he signed a five-and-a-half year contract less than a year ago. He has a personal fortune estimated at nearly 20m. And anyway, would you buy a used striker from a Russian oligarch?

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Gary Speed suicide leads TEN fellow footballers to seek help for depression

TEN professional footballers have sought help for depression since Gary Speed's inexplicable suicide on Saturday night.

Despite the fact that his agent and best man Hayden Evans - as quoted on this site yesterday - insists the Wales manager did not suffer from the condition, it appears his parting has led to a "scramble" for help at the Sporting Chance Clinic.

Their chief executive Peter Kay said: "I think it's almost inappropriate that anything good can come out of such an awful occurrence.

"But over ten players have contacted me since that news broke. That means ten people are seeking help. That is an unusual amount. If that can be deemed something worthwhile coming out from such a tragedy then so be it.

"When people are voicing the fact they've considered taking their own life, you have to understand that is one stage before the situation Gary got to."

Funding for the clinic, set up by former Arsenal and England talisman Tony Adams, comes partly from the Professional Footballers' Association. Its chief executive Gordon Taylor yesterday said players with mental health issues needed to find the "courage to ask for help".

As the footballing nation continued to mourn Speed's demise, concerns have been raised surrounding the Werther Effect, where talk of suicide leads to a lemming-like rush to the clifftop. The argument is this: If Gary Speed — great footballer, successful manager, rolling in money, still in good shape, handsome, lovely family, respected by all — can’t soldier on, how can anybody?

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

No answers to the questions swirling around Gary Speed's death

The mystery surrounding the tragic death of Wales manager Gary Speed deepens. Yesterday, his close friend Alan Shearer asked the question everyone needs answered. He said simply: “Why Speedo, didn't you give me or one of your other close mates a ring, if you were feeling so bad?”
And Speed’s agent Hayden Evans, best man at his wedding to wife Louise, failed to cast any further light on the 42-year-old’s apparent decision to hang himself in the garage of his Cheshire home on Saturday night. He said: "Louise is bewildered. They didn’t argue. She just doesn't understand it."
A post-mortem will be held today at 3pm GMT where details of Speed’s death will be clarified. Current reports suggest he may have hung himself at around 11.30pm on Saturday night. Police were called to the house in Huntingdon at 7am on Sunday morning and the news of his death was released just before Swansea City – the only Welsh side in the Premier League - kicked-off their game against Aston Villa.
After a minute’s silence filled with warm applause, Speed’s former Newcastle team-mate, Villa goalkeeper Shay Given, was inconsolable, weeping openly as a 0-0 draw which should never have been played dragged to a conclusion. What was it Bill Shankly said? “Football isn’t life and death. It’s more important than that.” Bollocks.
But the mystery remains. Speed appeared on BBC’s Football Forum in Manchester on Saturday morning, where he talked on air with former Leeds team-mate Gary McAllister, making jokes and promising to play golf next week. He then watched a televised game with Shearer in the studio.
As rumours of a row with Louise and a possible kiss-and-tell story lurking in the tabloids swirled around the internet, Hayden told The Sun this morning: "Gary and Louise were happily married and anyone who knows them will tell you that. This is why it's a mystery.
"We genuinely at the moment have no clue whatsoever what has caused it and I have been with the family all day. Everybody is asking the same question and no one has an answer. We are all in shock."
Many on Twitter have asked if Speed suffered from depression, blamed for the attempted suicides of boxer Frank Bruno and footballer Paul Gascoigne, sportsmen of similar ages over the past decade.
But with Speed taking Wales 70 places up the FIFA rankings in less than a year and widely revered for being a level-headed veteran of 840 games including a record 84 games for his nation before his retirement, there is no suggestion of any mental illness. Never has been.
Hayden, who said Speed was “happy as can be” when they spoke on the telephone on Saturday night, insisted: “Bouts of depression? None whatsoever. The one thing the family and me - as one of his closest friends - would totally refute is that. There was no indication of any problems and never has been."
Shearer is equally mystified. The pair played together at Newcastle for six winters and still take family holidays together. He said: "The question I keep asking myself and have done since I heard the dreadful news is 'Why? Why Speedo, didn't you give me or one of your other close mates a ring, if you were feeling so bad?'
"Why he couldn't have picked up the phone for a chat in those moments before he did what he did, I'll never know. None of us will.
"I was with him on Saturday watching the Stoke game and arranging next weekend.

"He was coming up with his wife to stay at my house. We were going to various charity dinners. I left the studio, shook his hand and said, 'See you next weekend.' Unfortunately I won't."
Shearer, like so many in football this week, is finding the loss of one of the game’s most respected players impossible to accept: "This just doesn't happen to one of your best mates. My wife is in bits. We just keep thinking of Louise, the two boys and his mum and dad. I can't imagine the pain they're going through. I can't get my head around the fact I was with him and he was happy, joking.
"We were having a laugh and joke about golf trips and holidays that we went on together last year. We were planning our next holiday in Portugal next summer with the families and the kids.
"I played against him many times, but when Kenny Dalglish signed him for Newcastle straight away we struck up a relationship. You're bound to have arguments along the way in football — but no one ever did with Gary.
"No one had a bad word for him. He was what you'd describe as a proper bloke, a proper man. You could depend on him."

Monday, 28 November 2011

Mickey Arthur. The Australians are taking the Mickey out of South Africa. Literally.

Like all good South Africans who are seeking a career beyond these shores, Mickey Arthur has come up with a foreign relative to back-up his new-found allegiance.
Yes, the 43-year-old apparently has sheepish Australian great-grandfather to go with the job as Australia’s first foreign national cricket coach.
So next time you see the former Proteas coach being interviewed after a squeaky Test victory, expect to hear him referring to sheep shearing, Kyle Minogue, Dame Edna Everage and sheilas rather than braai vleis, Sonia Herholdt, Evita Bezuidenhout and poppies.
It’s a sad truth that Kevin Pietersen and the gang of Anglo-South Africans – Matt Prior, Craig Kieswetter, Jade Dernbach and Jonathan Trott to naam maar a phew – feel the need to claim some sentimental allegiance rather than just the bright new passport.
But for Mickey to take that road comes as a bit of a shock. He goes into his new job with a series against neighbours New Zealand and I guess we can expect the instant switch of allegiances to go as far as reflecting the usual Aussie disdain for the Kiwis at The Gabba this week.

The first Test starts on December 1 and Arthur is already creating waves, picking four uncapped players including three sparkling new pacemen: Mitchell Starc, Ben Cutting and James Pattinson.

His first match in charge will be marked by the absence of FIVE of the men who recently toured South Africa: Shane Watson (hamstring), Mitchell Johnson (foot), Shaun Marsh (back) and Ryan Harris (pelvis) and Pat Cummins (heel).
Arthur took his new job at a fascinating juncture – just hours after Australia had wriggled out of a series defeat against South Africa at The Wanderers, chasing down a record 310 to win the second and final Test by just two wickets.
That they eventually drew the series 1-1 and avoided being the first since Bobby Simpson’s 1970 tourists to lose in South Africa had little to do with soon-to-be-appointed Arthur, more to do with captain Graeme Smith’s bizarre field-placings and bowling changes. No disrespect meant, Biff. Obviously.
John Michael Arthur, born in Johannesburg on May 17, 1968, went to Westville Boys’ High in Durban and scored 6,657 first class runs, including 13 centuries, in a career which was mired largely in Griqualand West and the Free State. He never played for the Proteas.
It was as a coach he truly excelled, leading South Africa from 2005 to 2010, a period which saw the nation rise to the top of the world rankings in Test and One-Day cricket – but when it came to the World Cups, he never quite succeeded in helping the Proteas rid themselves of the infamous “chokers” tag.
He fell out with Cricket South Africa – most do - and eventually moved to Australia to coach the Western Warriors in Perth.

When he parted company with that nice Gerald Majola bloke at CSA, captain Biff said: "It hurts to see him move aside. Mickey was integral in bringing stability and a lot of calmness to the side and he can be proud of what he achieved."

Arthur takes over the reins of his new country insisting: ''I don't think that it will matter, me being an outsider. You get respect straight away when you actually get the job but then you've got got to earn it during your period of time. I think I've earned that with any team I've been with and ultimately you wanted to be regarded and perceived as the best for the job irrespective of your nationality.
''My great grandfather was Australian and I will be looking to get residency here, so I really do feel I have an affinity with Australia.''
Grasping a contract which will see him through until after the 2015 World Cup, which will be held in Australia and New Zealand, he enthuses: ''To be coaching a team of the ilk of Australia is something I'm very, very proud about. I think I bring an unblinkered view, a view that having coached and analysed against a lot of Australian players during my time, but also having worked in the Australian system for the last year and a half I think I have got pretty much a really good idea of where we need to go with the team and what we need to do to have sustainable success over the next period of time.
''Every team I've ever coached, I've had a view on selection. I think that gives you a lot of credibility in the dressing room.''
His role as a selector leads, of course, to the inevitable question: What to do with former captain Ricky Ponting, who scored just eight runs in three innings this month in South Africa before a defiant – and match-turning – half-century in that epic win at The Wanderers.
Arthur growled: “I'll defer that to the first selection meeting,'' before a slight contradiction of his earlier comments about being an outsider: ''It's hard coming in from the outside without knowing what's going on in the team. We need a lot of information on that, something for (chairman of selectors) John Inverarity to take up.''

As it turns out, with five major injuries and four new caps, Ponting has been selected - and is likely to play on Thursday.
Though most cricket-speaking South Africans will wish “King Arthur” well in his new job, while fervently hoping Australia lose every game against his former homeland, Mickey himself concludes: “Australian cricket is in a very exciting phase. There are a lot of good young players coupled with the legends in the senior players. Young players need to be given quality opportunities."
Lest we forget: Arthur guided South Africa to a Test series win over Australia in 2008 - the first by any team on Australian soil in 15 years and a streak of nine unbeaten Test series.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Luke who's stalking Sun City: World No1 Donald heads to South Africa with his life in turmoil

Luke Donald will arrive in South Africa for the Nedbank Challenge at Sun City next week with his life in turmoil.
The world’s number one golfer saw his wife give birth to his second daughter this month – but he suffered the tragedy of losing his father Colin four days before.
On Twitter, Donald said following the birth of Sophia Ann Donald at 2.11am in Chicago on Friday morning, November 11 (11/11/11 for the world No1): "The No 1 has been gd 2 me, no more than 2day."
But after the death of his father, US-based Englishman Donald twittered: “With death there is pain and loss, but out of that comes light and appreciation. Appreciate what you have. I miss you dad x.”
The prolific tweeter was noticeably more cheerful this week, posting: “The best thing about being world No1 is not being No2!” and revealed his best-ever rounds: “61 at Conway Farms. 62 at Spyglass in competition.” Anything close to that will bring the house down at Sun City.
Donald also admitted to once breaking his club – at the tenth while competing in the Air Canada tournament in Vancouver in 2010 - before adding “Alright folks, I'm done. Back to daddy duties. Lost count of the nappies I’ve had to change. Catch u all later. Night tweeps!”
Donald, on the verge of becoming he first player in history to win the money title on both the American the PGA Tour and the European Tour in the same year, has had a week off while the President’s Cup battle rages in Australia.
With the old “Million Dollar Classic” next up, Donald is hoping for success before the final event of the European Tour season at the Dubai World Championship. He revealed he will end his year by competing in the Australia Masters, the final chapter in a prolific year for the boy who won the his local men’s championship at Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire, England, when he was just 15.
Both Donald and world No2 Lee Westwood, who won at Sun City last year when he was the world No1, will be competing for the $5m winner’s prize at Sun City from December 1-4 – but the two Brits will be up against FOUR major winners in the 12-man field.
World No4 Martin Kaymer of Germany, who won the 2010 US PGA, joins South Africa’s US Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and 2010 US Open winner Graeme McDowell as well as current Open champion Darren Clark of Northern Ireland.
Only one American - Jason Dufner – has secured an invitation as the Nedbank Classic compete with Tiger Woods' Chevron Challenge for big names in the first week of December.
There is a Sun City debut for South Korea's world No. 21 Kim Kyung-tae while top-class Scandinavians Anders Hansen, Thomas Bjorn and Robert Karlsson join England’s Simon Dyson to complete the dynamic dozen.
Kaymer, who won the last big tournament – the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai -
is now closing in on Donald, who was forced to bypass Shanghai because of his wife’s pregnancy.
Kaymer , who needs a victory at Sun City to maintain the pressure on the world No1 spot, said: “Obviously Luke is a very nice guy and he deserves to be No 1 in the world. It will be difficult to catch him, but that is what the sport is about, to challenge yourself, challenge the other players that you play with week in, week out, and of course I will try to give him a hard time.
“We’ll see. It’s not easy to get him away from the No 1 spot. It was an okay season, now it’s a good season. I played brilliant golf in Abu Dhabi (to win the HSBC Championship in January), and when I became the No 1 in the world in February after the World Golf Championships event in Arizona, my life has changed a little bit – not only mine, for the people I work with, my family.
“It has been a little awkward sometimes, because I was just not used to being in the spotlight. It took some time to get used to it, and hopefully it will happen again, because I know what’s going to happen, I know how to approach that.”

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Basil D'Oliveira: Great knock Dolly, there'll never be another quite like you

Basil D'Oliveira. Cape Town docks, just after the Millennium, during England's disastrous cricket tour of 1999/2000 - you know, the one when "honest" Hansie Cronje engineered a result in Centurion after the Proteas had won the series.
And there he was. Dolly. My idol. The man who simply refused to accept he couldn't play Test cricket for his own country. Banned by the brutal Apartheid regime from becoming the world-famous all-rounder he so plainly was.
Forced to play for a "non-white" South Africa against Uganda and Kenya. Brought up on dusty township strips, but still a prodigious batter and a more than average bowler. He scored an estimated 80 tons on the rough matting wickets around the Cape before he was eventually allowed to play on grass.
Basil D'Oliveira, the cricketer BJ Vorster couldn't bowl over, the man who brought racism to the world's attention. Whose legacy led to the Peter Haine-led sporting isolation which ultimately resulted in ridiculous rebel tours, flour bombs at All Black Test matches and headlines around the world.
To my mind, as a sports journalist, one of the most valuable weapons in the battle against man's inhumanity to man. Apartheid. Aparthate. Great man, Dolly.
Our chat, with the gloriously bearded and now-deceased Mirror cricket writer Chris Lander, ranged from the mundane to the magnificent. Drinks were drunk. Dolly sparkled and shone. One of the great nights.
And now, at 80, the great man has died in England. Even back then, the first signs of Parkinson's Disease were apparent, though not dominant. They had a moment's silence at The Wanderers on day three of the second Test against Australia in his honour. He deserved black armbands, posters, television documentaries, the works. Perhaps they will follow.
Dolly's unique history cannot be written without reference to Apartheid. To his being classified "coloured" by a regime who put a pencil in your hair and a ruler down your nose to decide if you could vote or not. He was part India, part Portuguese, all African.
Born near Signal Hill in Cape Town on October 4, 1931 (though there are rumours he's actually three years older, making him a Test debutant at 39), Basil Lewis D'Oliveira was an all-round sportsman, not just a cricketing all-rounder. He played football and cricket for the "non-white" international sides but was shunned by the established white professional associations.
But enter John Arlott, the grand gentleman of cricket. He was the man credited with easing Dolly from St Augustine's Cricket Club to Middleton, a club playing in the Central Lancashire League in 1960, at a time when non-white emigration was rare and frowned upon by the National Party government.
Dolly wrote to Arlott, the voice of cricket  in the 60s and Arlott said later: “What opportunity was there for a cricketer, denied by the laws of his native country organised coaching; parental financial capacity to afford proper gear; the use of a grass wicket or a safe outfield; the opportunity to take part in a first-class match or to play against opponents experienced at such a level?”
A journalist called John Kay eased his path in chilly Lancashire, where he and wife Naomi later to remark on his surprise at seeing white people doing menial work and working as waiters in restaurants. Middleton only signed "Bas" when their scheduled professional failed to turn up... and the money wasn't good. Back in Cape Town, charity matches were held to fund his new life in England. Unfazed by his social elevation (from second class citizen in the land of his birth to ordinary bloke in a foreign land), Dolly was soon spotted by Worcestershire after topping the league batting averages ahead of a West Indian bloke by the name of Garfield Sobers.
He scored a century on his county debut, and another in his second appearance. Naturalisation as an true British citizen followed and after two prolific seasons at New Road, England came calling after he was named one of Wisden's Cricketers of the Year in 1967.
Despite whispers about his nationality from the conservatives at Lord's, "Bas" made his England debut against the West Indies at the age of 35. Who knows what would have happend had he stepped on the world stage in his twenties? He got 27 and a wicket at Lord's in that first Test, three successive 50s followed.
Then came the touring Australians in the first Ashes Test at Old Trafford. He sat out the second, third and fourth Ashes clashes but was back for the fifth at The Oval.
And now we remember the mythical 158, scored at just the right time to earn selection for the 1968-69 tour to South Africa. Somehow, the selectors contrived to leave him out. Rumours raged... until a chap called Tom Cartwright pulled out injured... and Dolly had his rightful place on the boat to Cape Town, his home town.
Then Balthazar Johannes Vorster, the South African president, made the worst call of his generally undistinguished political career. He was in Bloemfontein when he heard the news that D'Oliveira had been picked for England. Having been assured at the highest levels that the "coloured South African" would not be selected, BJ growled: "The team as constituted now is not the team of the MCC it is the team of the anti-Apartheid movement."
The world had heard enough. England promptly called off the tour, and the Peter Haine-led sporting boycott of South Africa, which hurt sports-mad South Africans so badly for 25 years, began. It would not end until the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990 and the rush to democracy in 1994.
Dolly went on to play 44 Tests for England, the highlight being the Ashes tour to Australia in 1970, when he famously wandered up to every Aussie available to push a finger in their chest and tell them: "We stuffed you!" after a 2-0 series win.
He declared his international career over a year later, ending with five Test centuries and an average of 44. But he went on to play for Worcestershire on a regular basis until 1977 when, at the age of 45, he topped the county averages. He kept playing the occasional championship game until he was nearly 50. registering 45 first class tons. Then he turned to coaching as the unfashionable midlands county won two titles in the 1990s and "Bas" had significant impact on the career of young Zimbabwean Graeme Hick, another who changed passports to play for England.
Dolly returned to South Africa after democracy, coaching the local clubs in Cape Town and generally doing good.
Years later, just after our meeting in Cape Town, Dolly was named one of the 10 South African cricketers of the century - despite being denied the chance to represent his country.
Even now, the Test series between England and South Africa are known as the battle for the "Basil D'Oliveira Trophy."
In 2005 he became a Commander of the British Empire in the Queen's Birthday Honours List. And the same year, they named the stand after him at Worcester's New Road ground.
Worthy tributes to a real character. Great knock, Dolly. There'll never be another quite like you.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Steven Pienaar: If you're from Westbury Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur's a doddle!

Bafana Bafana captain Steve Pienaar insists he has “mixed feelings” but “no regrets” over his R35m move from Everton to Tottenham Hotspur in January.

Pienaar, voted Player of the Year by fans at Goodison Park in 2010, chose not to sign a new deal at Everton and moved to Spurs in a cut-price deal with just six months left on his contract.

But injury and selection problems – he was always going to have trouble forcing his way past a fit Gareth Bale on the left of Harry Redknapp’s midfield – have seen him play just one game for Spurs this season. And that was in a second-string Europa League outfit in the defeat against Rubin Kazan in Russia just before the international break.

Pienaar, outstanding in South Africa’s 1-1 draw against Africa’s No1 side Ivory Coast in Port Elizabeth on Saturday, told The Independent on his return to England his week: “Yes, it’s been a bumpy road at White Hart Lane. It has been a year of mixed feelings, but hopefully I can make it a successful move. Don’t have to show the Spurs fans what I can do, they’ve seen me play against them for Everton.”

But Pienaar rejected a late bid from Chelsea to move to their London neighbours – and ignored warnings from Everton boss David Moyes that he would live to regret his decision to leave Liverpool. But the 29-year-old from Westbury near Johannesburg said: "Regrets? No, not at all. It was a very hard decision to make. It was hard to leave Everton as club and Liverpool as a city. The people I had around me, the players, most of the supporters were very good to me, and I will always be grateful to them.

"It was hard to go, but in life you have to make decisions. I made this one as a footballer and as a human being, and I don't have any regrets about what I chose to do. Not at all."

Pienaar, who left South Africa’s Ajax Cape Town for their mother club in Amsterdam before moving to Borussia Dortmund, was once told he would never play football again when he suffered a serious nerve injury.

He admits: "I had a tough time at Ajax. When I damaged my nerve, they said I'd never play again. I came back strong. I had a difficult spell at Dortmund, and I came back strong. Things like that help you appreciate the things that you do have.

“Being a footballer is only a short career. Having been through all of that helps me appreciate the time I am on the field. It drives you to fight for your place.

“Harry Redknapp (currently off sick for a month after heart surgery) has been very supportive. I want to be part of this team, and I want to show I did not come here by mistake. I have come back twice already, and I will come back again.”

Pienaar has proved he can return from adversity before. Ever since he was first spotted by the Ajax scouts playing for Westbury Arsenal – not a name his current club will enjoy – Pienaar has shown durability, a willingness to succeed despite the odds.

Now running a charity for jailed Johannesburg teenagers, Pienaar offers this explanation of his bouncebackability: "When I grew up in Westbury it was the toughest place in South Africa outside of Soweto. The crime rate was high and life expectancy was short.

"Because our house was in the area where the drug gangs hang out, they'd say to me 'You be our look-out. If you see someone you don't know, whistle.' Sometimes I'd get involved but I was more afraid of my mum than the gangs.

“If she found money in my pockets she'd want to know where it came from. I'd say we'd played football against other boys for money. It was difficult to stay out of trouble. It was a dodgy area and the temptation was huge. I'd be so envious of the boys who'd turn up with new sneakers from their drugs money. But I knew I'd get a hiding from my mum if I got involved.

"Now I realise how fortunate I was to have a mum who was always on my case to get an education. She brought up four children on her own and it was because she was strict we escaped gangs and drug dealers."

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Hold the black arm bands: The sad closing chapter in Peter Roebuck's life exposed by his final victim

And so, finally, the truth is out. Broken not by the South African Police, who witnessed the suicide of cricket writer Peter Roebuck, and not by the cricket writers, who continue to eulogise about their dodgy colleague.

Ultimately, the awful truth comes from the man last abused by Roebuck, the former Somerset captain convicted of common assault against three 19-year-old South Africans in 2001.

When Roebuck threw himself 70 feet to his death out of his Newlands Sun hotel window on Saturday night at around 9pm, he did so after being confronted by two policemen and a 26-year-old called Itai Gondo.

When I dared to question the nature of Roebuck's death and his proclivities in life, I was widely condemned for homophobia and scandalous innuendo - though many appreciated a more honest obituary than the ones being written by his fellow cricket writers on Monday morning.

Gondo puts that shameful minority in their place. He explains how he was lured into a meeting via Facebook by the articulate former Millfield and Cambridge graduate, a man granted a position of status as a cricket writer and commentator by unquestioning ABC and Fairfax executives despite his 2001 convictions.

Gondo describes himself as a "penniless refugee" from Zimbabwe who knew one of the "adopted sons" who live at Roebuck's "cricket coaching" home in Pietermaritzburg.

Roebuck, 55, soon started signing his messages to Gondo "dad" as he lured the vulnerable 26-year-old in to his clutches with tales of how he looked after his "17 adopted children" and how he would help Gondo through university.

Gondo, with no knowledge of Roebuck's previous convictions for caning young men in his care, wasn't too worried when Roebuck apparently agreed to the meeting by saying "Okay my boy, bring stick in case I need to beat you!"
A two-hour meeting at a Cape Town hotel followed before the inevitable. Gondo claims Roebuck "pinned him to the bed and launched a sickening sex assault" according to the Sun newspaper in London.
Gondo, who was not paid for his revelations, said the attack finally came to a halt when his telephone rang. He claims: "I was in shock and told myself that it couldn't be happening."

Gondo then tells how Roebuck apologised on Facebook the next day. He sent this message: "Worried bout u, hope u ok". Gondo responded: "One day the long arm of the law will catch up with your evil misdeeds."
Gondo, traumatised by Roebuck's attack, then reported the incident to the police, bringing a charge of sexual assault. When the police arrived to question him, Roebuck called a friend for legal help - and when his colleague returned, Roebuck had departed through the window.

A source close to the investigation in Cape Town, quoted by The Sun, said: "Gondo needed money to go to university. He is not gay and is not a sex worker. He contacted Roebuck after a friend said he might sponsor him. But he said Roebuck pounced on him.

"It has left him traumatised. He got away but was so shocked it took days for his girlfriend to talk him into going to the police. Roebuck was about to be arrested when he jumped from the window."

This morning, Gondo reveals he is having counselling after the horror of his past week. The police say they are examining Roebuck's lap top computer to confirm the facts.

Clearly Gondo's statement to the Sun will rile Roebuck's vociferous defenders. They will say Gondo is a rent-boy, out to make money. They will claim he is an agent of Robert Mugabe, send to finish Roebuck, a critic of the Zimbabwean regime. They will insist Roebuck was thrown out of the window by the notorious South African police - but it truth that sort of thing ended with Apartheid.

Others will claim Roebuck did nothing wrong before he leapt to his death, that attempting to have a relationship with a 26-year-old man is no crime.

And of course, they'd be right. Caning is not strictly against the law. Neither is propositioning friends on Facebook. Assaulting them, attempting to control them, using you status as a famous cricket commentator to force them into a compromising situation is what I'm on about. Especially when you have convictions for similar offences against vulnerable young men in your care.

So those - like Kevin McCallum of the Johannesburg Star earlier this week - who suggested Roebuck's parting is a time for a wailing and gnashing of teeth are, to my mind, utterly wrong.

McCallum suggested both South Africa and Australia should wear black armbands for the man who captained England just once - to an embarrassing one-day defeat against The Netherlands - even after I'd send him a heads-up over Roebuck's dodgy past.

Last year, Rodney Hartman, the doyen of South African cricket writers and a leading light behind the hosting of the 2003 Cricket World Cup, was not even granted that privilege following his - natural - death. Today in the press box at The Wanderers as the second Test gets underway, many of those who commented anonymously on this blog, calling me all the names under the sun, will squirm uncomfortably at their key boards.

I suspect some even knew about Roebuck's past, his modus operandi when it came to social contacts. But they chose to stay silent and rave about his "brave, fearless, scathing" cricket writing.

For balance, you should now read - but note the author himself back-tracks on the murder allegation in his own comments section. I do not judge Peter Roebuck. I am simply attempting to present the alternate version - the grubby side - of a grim suicide.

And Roebuck, let's face it, is not fit to fire up my old Rand Daily Mail colleague Hartman's lap top. End of.