SPORT

Who is the greatest tennis-player of all time?

 

Rocket
The Rockhampton Rocket

Despite the fact Roger Federer won his 18TH grand slam title the frozen northerner found this year’s Wimbledon was a rather insipid affair, what with Sue Barker’s constant fawning and Andrew Castle’s slimy commentary the BBC really need to take a long hard look at their sports coverage, as it appears to be looking rather tired and dated. God, the amount of times I was told that Roger Federer is the greatest player of all time begged belief, Roger is great there is no doubt about it, but the greatest of all time, sorry, better than Laver, Borg, McEnroe, Sampras, Gonzales, Kramer, Budge and Tilden then the answer has to be firm no. All of Federer’s titles have been won in the open era of tennis which has only been around since 1968, thus severely restricted the careers of players of the calibre of Gonzales Kramer, Budge, hell, when Tilden turned pro in 1930 he had won 10 grand slam titles without appearing at Wimbledon every year, never mind Roland Garros or the Australian. Borg’s 11 Grand slam were all achieved in very short space of time before he left the sport at the tender age of 26, if he had played on who knows what he might have won, now I know what you are thinking which is that the frozen northerner just does not like Federer which is far from the truth, it is that I just think there have been better, I need to be convinced by Federer and I am not, oh and there’s another thing, Budge and Laver can argue about, Grand Slams, they are the only players to win all four Grand Slam titles in a calendar year with Laver doing it twice. Furthermore the likes of Laver and co nearly always competed in the doubles and mixed doubles at these major events making their task of consistently winning the singles titles just that little bit harder. What makes these kinds of assessments so difficult is that there is very little footage of the early great players and there aren’t too many people around who can remember Tilden or Budge, or even Ellsworth Vines, who the very shrewd Jack Kramer though was the greatest player ever to lift a racket. People like Kramer, Dan Maskell and Bud Collins spent the life constantly assessing players and their expertise greatly outweighs my rather limited knowledge. However, for me personally no one is ever going to get past Laver, who for me was pretty much incomparable, Borg would probably be my number two with the despised McEnroe at number three. The BBC commentary team can wax lyrically as long as they want about Roger who is truly great, it’s just that he is not the greatest.

 

bjorg
The Ice Man Cometh

 

brat
The Brat

 

tilden
Tilden

 

grandslamman
Grand Slam Man

 

time
A Man Ahead of his Time

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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CLOTHES

Ellesse
Ellesse

In the early 1980’s the frozen northerner spent most of his summer holidays on the Costa Del Sol, the main objectives of these holidays were to obtain the perfect tan and drink copious amounts of San Miguel, both of which were normally achieved. When the frozen northerner returned home he had to have in his possession at least one brand new polo shirt, normally it would a classic Lacoste, but for our intrepid traveller there was another polo shirt that had to be purchased and that was the Ellesse polo shirt. These polo shirts may have been standard issue in the Metropolis but in the darkest north east of England they were nigh on impossible to find. During this period of time there were few pretenders around trying to steal the crown that had been worn effortlessly by Lacoste since the beginning of time; they mainly came from Italy and included the aforementioned Ellesse, as well as makes such as Fila and Tacchini (I tend to think the iconic Fred Perry was on the backburner at this time but please correct me if I am wrong). Walking down South Parade in Whitley Bay on any Saturday night you were indeed swimming with crocodiles, there were that many men wearing Lacoste so, wearing Ellesse made you a bit different which, I suppose was the aim of the game.   Founded in Perugia in 1959 by Leonardo Servadio the brand name Ellesse derives from the initials of original owner L S, with its easy identifiable tennis ball logo Ellesse sportswear was worn with distinction mainly by famous tennis players such as Boris Becker, Mats Wilander and Chris Evert, they may have looked good but you weren’t go to buy the shirt because of these players you were going to buy it because of one man Guillermero Vilas. The big serving Argentinian left hander, looked more like a member of Menotti world cup squad than a tennis player, with his long flowing locks he would easily have fitted in perfectly into a forwardline that included Luque and Kempes but chose tennis instead. The “young bull of the pampas” always looked great in Ellesse especially at the French Open at Roland Garros, on the clay which was his preferred surface, you were never going to look as good as him but it didn’t stop you dreaming. Sadly, Ellesse was taken over by in 1994 by the Pentland group, an investment that was bad for all parties concerned, the company slipped into decline which saw Ellesse gradually lose its place in highly competitive polo shirt market which was rather tragic. Now with the release of its heritage line, Ellesse is trying to make a comeback, I doubt it will make it back to those glorious days of the early 80,s there is just too much competition around producing a better product (stand up Fred Perry) I would love them to do well, but without Vilas they are going to struggle get back to the top.

Pampas
The young bull of the Pampas
terrace
Terrace Style

SPORT

Hawkey
Di Stefano by Ian Hawkey

Books in the English language, on the greatest footballer of all time are few and far between, hold on I hear you say, books on Pele, Maradona and Messi are numerous and plentiful but as great as these players are, none of them can hold a candle to the legendary Alfredo Di Stefano. Just how great this player was is often overlooked because he really played before the television era began. So, when Ian Hawkey recently produced a book on the great man, it had to bought and read immediately. Although I enjoyed the book I have to say it would not make my top ten of sporting books. Whilst the book explores Di Stefano’s experience as both a player and a coach, it is his time as player that I was most interested. Although he had a loan spell at Huracan early on in his career and a spell at Espanol at the end, it is his time at 3 clubs River Plate of Buenos Aires in Argentina, the Colombian club Millionarios of Bogotá and last but least the Spanish team Real Madrid (who he transformed in to the biggest football team on the planet) that really interested me.  his time at Real Madrid has been well documented, but the other two clubs not so much. River Plate whether you like or not was the place that established him as great player, playing alongside the likes of Rossi, Pedernera and Labruna he developed his game to another level, success came quickly resulting in 2 Primera league titles in 1945 and 47 with his club as well as the 47 Copa America with Argentina. Although this was a golden period of Argentine football, it has to said the Argentine FA was consumed by greed and corruption, that forced their better players to head the rebel Colombian League. I feel Hawkey’s book has missed an opportunity here to explore just disastrous this was Argentine football, which saw them miss 2 world cups and the chance to be recognised as the leading football nation in South America, the repercussions of which are still being felt today. Di Stefano time at Millionarios was spent under the guidance of their President Alfonso Senior Quevedo, a man who you could argue created the first galacticos, (an idea pinched by Santiago Bernabeu and used to this day by Florentino Perez) his side nicknamed the “Ballet in Blue” dominated the Columbian League during Di Stefano’s time there. Quevedo was man ahead of his time, relentlessly chasing trophies home and aboard turning them into the football equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters, when the toured Spain and played against Real Madrid, Senor Bernabeu was captivated by the brilliance of Di Stefano so much so that he knew that if Real Madrid were to come become great, then this was the man that was going to transform them. The rest as they say is history and Hawkey’s book adequately covers his Madrid years, discussing the tug of war with Barcelona for player’s signature, his glory days at Madrid, his partnership with Puskas, his tragic exit,his return as a manager it’s all there. Di Stefano had peerless career that no great player can match in terms of success and longevity, the only downside in his professional life was in the World Cup in which Argentina refused to play in twice in 1950 and 54 which, they could have possibly won, when he eventually got to play in the world cup he was badly hampered by injury and could not do himself justice. Di Stefano was an awkward, stubborn individual, who was not easy to get along with, but one thing always comes shining through and that was his hunger and desire to be the best at times. Hawkey’s book could and should have been a lot better, but having said that I did enjoy it, should you buy it, I would have to say yes if only for the fact it will expose you to the greatest player that has ever lived, Alfredo Di Stefano.

SPORT

Forgotten Heroes

joan-benoit
Joan Benoit

The 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics saw women participate in the marathon for the very first time, that August would see 50 competitors from 28 countries taking part, for me it would be memorable for two reasons, the courage that was shown by the Swiss entrant Gabriela Andersen Schiess who entered the stadium in a state of near exhaustion, but still managed to finish the race in 37th place and by the sheer dominance of the race by the winner Joan Benoit. Truth be told the frozen northerner was completely ignorant of the exploits Ms Benoit, who was dominating North American marathon running scene, at that particular time the frozen northerner was too busy wrapped up in what was going on the European circuit with Cram Ovett and Coe at the forefront of golden age for British athletics, so with the union jack swirling high I was only paying limited attention limited attention to what was going on in the world of woman’s athletics and besides with my know it attitude it was fairly obvious that the women’s marathon was going to won by a Norwegian, it was just a matter of which one, Ingrid Christensen or Greta Wietz . So when this American woman running in a baseball cap takes the race by the scuff of the neck I am immediately entranced and cannot take my eyes off her. I keep telling myself that it only a matter of time before either Wietz of Christensen will go past her but it never happens and Benoit wins the race in the outstanding time of 2.24.52 with Wietz second with Portugal’s Rosa Mota third (a distraught Christiensen finished fourth and out of the medal). To say I was impressed would be an understatement, what would impress me even more was the fact that the peerless Ms Benoit had knee surgery 17 days before the Olympic trials, a trail that she still managed to win by 30 seconds, Joan Benoit is not name that easily springs to mind unless you are real fan of marathon running which, is a shame because she really was and still is an outstanding athlete. The diminutive Benoit enjoyed a stellar career as a marathon runner and it would be no exaggeration to say that she has a strong claim to be ranked at the very top of her sport, since her retirement Joan has been an influential figure in women’s distance running in the United States and is woman that I greatly admire, but no matter how great her achievements, all I can think about is who is that woman in front wearing a baseball cap.

joan-benoit-w-cap
Joan Benoit with cap!!

SPORT

scot67
Scotland 67 Nonpareil

Scottish football is in the doldrums, when I think of Scotland’s football team I think of players like Denis Law, Jim Baxter and Jimmy Johnstone, the list of Scottish players that have been regarded as world class is pretty much endless and there is lot more that I could list but, ask me to name one in the last 10 years then you’ve got me scratching my head. The decline of Scottish football is a tragedy that is showing no sign of abating and it could be while before we see them back at a major competition again. Scotland’s much maligned manager Gordon Strachan has received lots of criticism, but I am finding it hard to believe that Pep Guardiola would do much a better job given the dearth of top class Scottish players around at the moment.

johnstone
The incomparable Johnstone

Too many cheap imports has brought the standard of Scottish league football to a level that can be best described as abysmal, the two giants of Scottish Celtic and Rangers have not got one top class player between them and at the moment they are unlikely to attract any. Ask yourself are there any players currently playing in the Scottish premiership capable of playing in the English premiership, the answer is an emphatic no. It may be nearly 50 years since that glorious night in Lisbon,but the vision that Stein and probably Ferguson later at Aberdeen had for Scottish football lie in the dust with the future looking very shaky indeed. The men that wield the power within the corridors of the SFA could and most probably will sack Strachan in the near future but that is not going to change anything, the problems will still be there, as long as SKY continue to prop up Scottish football most people will take the money and run, these people are charlatans, they have no genuine passion for their sport and are killing the Scottish game with their greed. Someone has got to see the bigger picture and get to the bottom of this worsening problem. Why are teams like Iceland doing better than Scotland (and England for that matter) and why are small countries such as Wales are producing players like Bale and Ramsey, Belgium Hazard, Denmark, Eriksen and Holland well, as normal loads. I hate seeing Scottish football in this state of depression, something is just not right when there is no tartan army at the big tournaments, however one thing is for sure, nothing is going change very quick unless some rather radical takes place. I am so down with what is going on in Scottish football I could cry and that is from an Englishman. So, to make you even more depressed (only Scottish fans need apply) I have laid out the a team with eleven players all in their rightful positions without having to accommodate anyone in wrongful places, position wise I think this particular Scotland team represents everything that was once great about Scotland’s national side and for me this team is as good as it gets, playing a 4- 4- 2 formation with Jock Stein as their manager I think they could give anybody a run for their money. This team like any other great side is open to debate have a look agree or disagree but enjoy your whisky while you review it.

1. Ronnie Simpson

2. Danny McGrain 5. Billy McNeil 6.Alan Hansen 3.Tommy Gemmell

7. Jimmy Johnstone 4.Graeme Souness (capt) 8.Jim Baxter 11.Bobby Lennox

9.Kenny Dalglish 10.Denis Law

SUBS: Billy Bremner, Joe Jordan, Davie Cooper, Richard Gough and Eddie Gray.

 

law
Shirt outside his shorts and the one armed salute, the legendary Denis Law
slimjim
More hero worship for Slim Jim

Books#1

glorygame
The Glory Game by Hunter Davies

When I started blogging just over a year ago I thought it would be a good idea to write an appraisal of ten of the best books I have read on sport, well, here we are at what I consider to be the best book on the subject, it’s a book that I have read time and time again and the name of the book is The Glory Game, by Hunter Davies. Many sports enthusiasts may raise an eyebrow or two at my choice but I hope that when you read it you will understand why it is so close to my heart. Loaned to me by that avid reader of sports literature the legendary Richard Percy whose passion for sport know no bounds, the book was and is a compelling insight into the working of that famous London football club Tottenham Hotspur. When Davies wrote this book, Tottenham Hotspur, more commonly known as Spurs were at that particular time vying with Manchester United for the title of being the most popular football team in the country. For over a decade Spurs had played an effortless style of football that saw them become the first English team to win a European competition when they won European Cup Winners Cup in 1963. Managed brilliantly by the great Bill Nicolson, the team won a host trophies throughout the sixties and early seventies, throughout this golden period they had an abundance of great players such Blanchflower, White, Mackay, Greaves, Jones, Brown, Jennings, Peters, Mullery and Chivers, the list was practically endless but by 1972 times were changing and non-more so than in the world of professional football. To this day I am totally stunned by the amount access that the Spurs board allowed Hunter Davies to have. Davies virtually became member of the first time squad, with the only difference being that instead of playing Davies was writing down everything that being said and some of it was not pretty. Witness the arrival of Ralph Coates from the Lancashire club Burnley, already uneasy about his big transfer Coates is greeted warmly by his new teammates, but behind his back the very trendy Spurs players latch on to the fact that the up north in Burnley it appeared that flares, cheesecloth shirts and tulip lapel jackets have not reached the far flung reaches of the north-west. It is a world far removed from the one that manager Bill Nicolson and his trusted No 2 Eddie Bailey were brought up in, they had suffered the horrors of World war 2 and the years of austerity that followed, Nicolson lived just around the corner from the ground and if you cut him in two he would bleed Spurs, so it is easy to see why he would get annoyed when his flash long haired young stars were arriving to training sessions from places like Cheam, driving their Ford Capri’s and talking endlessly about the birds they are pulling. Nicolson and Bailey take long hair as personal insult and sees the standards that they have set slowly evaporating. Overall Spurs had a good 1971-72 season as well as finishing 6th in the league, they reached the quarter-final of the FA cup, the semi-final of the league cup and won the UEFA cup so, you would have to say they had great season, forget the success, where the book succeeds brilliantly is revealing the players insecurities, witness the despair of Alan Mullery when after getting injured he finds himself farmed out to Fulham then in the old second division, his Spurs career looks over till his young replacement John Pratt breaks his nose, forcing Nicolson to bring back Mullery for the UEFA cup semi-final against the Italians of AC Milan. I won’t spoil what happens, but it goes a long way to show the fickle nature of the game and just how much luck has to do with staying in the first team. Davies leaves no stone unturned and the book dissects everyone from the chairman all the way down to the fans on the terrace, all the chapters are extremely revealing about the everyday workings of the club but, Chapter 18 is my favourite and introduces us to something that is commonplace in todays game “the hanger-on” and in particular one Morris Keston. Nowadays these type of people are everywhere but back then they weren’t so obvious, Keston is widely disliked by the directors, but loved by the players mainly because he is willing to lavish his money on the players in one form or another, he never misses a game home or away and would love to become a member of the board which, is never going to happen as he is seen by the members of the board as a rather undesirable type, the type of person that Tottenham Hotspur do not want be associated with.  I have talked endlessly about this book and I could talk a lot more, the book is an absolute timeless classic, it should be read by anyone who has a passing interest in sport and should a must for everyone involved in football regardless of age,  I am not sure Hunter Davies was prepared for the reaction that the book would bring all I can say is that I am pleased that he wrote it.

SPORT

seabird
Sea Bird. The Greatest Arc Winner of All Time?

Horse racing fascinates me, it was both my grandfather and father’s passion and a little bit that passion has rubbed off on me, this weekend will see my favourite race of the year the Prix Arc De Triomphe. Normally the race takes place at the glamourous Longchamp racecourse in the heart of Paris but, as Longchamp is going under a massive refurbishment, the event has been transferred some 40km from Paris to Chantilly in the region of Picardy. Lying in the valley of Nonette and enclosed by a magnificent forest, Chantilly is home to both the Prix Du Jockey Club (French Derby) and Prix De Diane (French Oaks) and is the perfect substitute for Longchamp. Nothing in the racing calendar really compares to this very stylish affair which will see Parisians turn out in their thousands for best day of flat racing you will find anywhere in the world. Racegoers in England will argue that both Royal Ascot and the Epsom Derby are more spectacular occasions, while the Americans will claim that the Breeders Cup is now the premier racehorse meeting in world racing, but who are we kidding, when it comes to putting on an event like this, the French will win every time because, they will do it with that polished flair, that the British and Americans just don’t have. The sartorial elegance that will be displayed by the very chic Parisian crowd will only be outdone by the very high level of thoroughbred quality that will be competing on the track, which will be owned by some of the wealthiest people all vying for the highly prestigious prizes on offer. Their horses will come from all over the globe and will descend on Chantilly to compete in a host of group 1 races, with the sole aim of winning races to boost their breeding potential, the race that everyone will trying to win will be the Prix Arc De Triomphe. Run over a mile and a half this epic contest first took place in 1920 and over the years it has become the biggest flat race in the world, this race has seen some truly great racehorses such as Ribot, Sea Bird, Mill Reef, Alleged and Treve triumph and some truly great racehorses notably Nijinsky fail. Hopefully this year’s race will produce another outstanding winner and with a bit of luck it may come from Newmarket in the shape of the Roger Varian trained Postponed.  So this Sunday sit back and open up a nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and watch one of the great sporting occasions of the year.