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?