THE THREE FINALISTS
OLIVIA SHEARS, 22
UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE
REPORT: Cambridge University Hockey Club’s Women’s Blues held to a draw in grudge match at Wilberforce Road
There are some fixtures where recent form, tactics, and on-paper assessment never seem as if they get an opportunity to play a real bearing. This was one of those encounters: cagey, gritty, and unpredictable. By the final whistle, both teams had held the swing of momentum for periods, clashed over the ball, and claimed a goal apiece. An end-to-end start to 2017, and a tantalising prelude during preparations for the 117th Varsity Hockey Matches on March 12.
A Cambridge-Oxford showdown can be loosely characterised by its frantic nature. This was no different, with both teams dragging each other around the pitch. Having met back in October, in the first BUCS South A game of the season at Iffley Road, Oxford, the players were vaguely aware of their opposition’s strengths and weaknesses. That match had been a typically close 2-1 contest, with Cambridge coming out on top after two excellent goals and a totemic shift from in-form goalkeeper Freddie Briscoe.
Yet much has happened since October. Both teams have played more than eighteen Saturday and BUCS League matches; selections have been juggled, presses experimented with, and patterns of play ground out in cold, wet evening training sessions. Cambridge had improved their structure considerably. Oxford looked more sure in both defence and outlet.
Pre-match nerves were palpable through the Arctic conditions; effort and fervour permeating from all players as both teams endeavoured to be first on the scoreboard. Cambridge started at fizzing pace and were immediately on the front foot, playing with an intensity that had eluded them in their previous few games (it remains to be confirmed whether this can be attributed to performance-enhancing coffees, the team talk from their new coach, or the pink bows in their hair courtesy of Cambridge Pink Week).
With a huge left-right drag and a devastating change of pace, Lucia Corry wove through the Dark Blues to win a short corner in the first five minutes. Molly Buxton wasted no time in slapping the ball route-one into the backboard.
Oxford began to look increasingly under pressure as Cambridge found their feet, running aggressively in the press to pin the Dark Blues on the wing. Sensing the rattled nerves of the Oxford players, the CUHC supporters found their traditionally rowdy voices. Cambridge came close to going two goals up when Emily Thorpe broke through several players to find Cat Cox on the post, whose shot was well-blocked by Rachel Dellar in goal.
Through patient build-up play and tireless running from Shona McNab and Annie Koehli in the middle, Oxford began to command more possession. Numerous chances and short-corners went begging, and the Cambridge defence, directed by Briscoe and full-back Hatty Darling, dug deep.
Despite a drop in possession, Cambridge looked consistently dangerous on the counter-attack; their perseverance and pace marred by an inability to close out the game. With ten minutes to go, persistent Oxford pressure was rewarded with a loose ball from the Cambridge backs. Sniffing an equaliser, attacker Sophie Shakespeare wasn’t taking any chances as she drifted into the D to score.
Cambridge will be disappointed by the loss of clarity and precision which allowed Oxford to convert. However, debuting coach Craig Larner will take much encouragement from his team’s performance, rich in whole-heartedness and tenacity. Cambridge are the only team to have beaten Oxford, and the only team that Oxford have not beaten in BUCS South A this season, despite recording some excellent results against the likes of Bath and Exeter. That’s the law of a Varsity Match; a clash of Blues as much about mentality as physicality.
OPINION PIECE: Why Women’s Sport Week is just the tip of the gender sports participation gap
Amongst the novelty and clamour of freshers’ week, Women’s Sport Week 2016 went mostly unnoticed in Cambridge. The collaboration, between Women in Sport, Sport England, major broadcasters and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, aims to showcase women’s sport.
Despite the growing profile of women in sport, it is a misconception to assume there is now equality between men’s and women’s sport. The gaps in participation, media coverage and involvement at governing-body level speak for themselves; only 31.7 per cent of adult females participate in sport at least once a week, compared to 40.7 per cent of males. This gap is even wider amongst teenagers. But with women’s sport only making up seven per cent of all UK media coverage, how can we expect girls to want to get involved?
In a few golden weeks during the Rio Olympics, Kate Richardson-Walsh, Nicola Adams, Kadeena Cox and Laura Trott were all gold medallists for historic first, second and fourth times. We marvelled at their skill, athleticism, determination and strength, and switched channels from football to women’s hockey in our millions.
But is it really good enough that this kind of exposure lasts only for a few select weeks once every few years? Women’s sport is still rarely normalised in media coverage, and is so often just an add-on to the men’s events. Why do we still have to seek out news about women’s sport? Why are looks still defining which female sports stars have the most media opportunities?
Even during the Olympics, I read a feature discussing who could be the ‘next Usain Bolt’; all listed contenders were male. Why was it automatically assumed that the next big star of athletics wouldn’t be female? Bolt may be a male sprinter, but his contribution to athletics, in terms of public engagement and his ability to inspire, is defined by his athletic excellence and personality. Not his sex.
The arguments say that women’s sport is not the same as men’s sport; it doesn’t bring in the money, people don’t care as much about it. But this is precisely why it deserves its own platform – it isn’t the same as men’s sport and we shouldn’t try to make it so. It brings something else, and it should be open and accessible to anyone who wants to give it a try.
My interest in women’s sport and participation doesn’t stem from feminism. Instead, it’s grounded in how much fulfilment I have gained personally from sport; from playing it, watching it, organising it, even just talking about it. I’m critically aware that I’ve been lucky to have had great opportunities to get involved with sport and to never have been discouraged from being sporty.
I find the idea that some girls and women will never even have a hint of this saddening, because I absolutely believe that sport is powerful. It improves your wellbeing and teaches you about relationships, with others and, perhaps more importantly, with yourself. It is empowering, fun, competitive and challenging. It is something we should be advocating copiously.
Over the next three years, England will host the women’s cricket, hockey and netball World Cups. This is a huge opportunity to inspire people of all ages and genders, and help bring women’s sport into the mainstream. Women don’t just have opinions on women’s sport, they can offer contributions to the men’s game, the grassroots process, and the governing bodies. Amongst a seemingly never-ending stream of corruption and doping scandals, Women’s Sport Week is a chance to get back to the basics of why we enjoy sport, and create opportunities so more and more people can reap its benefits.
SPORTING TOP 10: Motivational sports videos on YouTube
I was first introduced to the world of motivational YouTube videos by a wise hockey captain, who used to include them in her pre-match emails. At first, I was sceptical; it felt both inadequate and a bit dumpy. Did I really need a YouTube video to motivate me? Most seemed to simply be glorified advertisements – surely this could only act as a distraction from the real-world task at hand? I was easily converted. There are few processes that can elicit emotions from us as sport does; these videos encapsulate that passion.
A textbook dramatic music, training video montage and theatrical voiceover format, this advertisement is made by the story of self-belief and hard work behind it. Berian had dropped out of college and was still working in a McDonald’s while training to be one of the best middle-distance runners in the world.
Another training montage, another athlete, another story of determination and athletic potential. This video shows that behind 28 Olympic medals are many, many more hours of gruelling training and preparation. An impressive reminder that high performance is built on a whole lifestyle, and a fitting tribute to a superb athlete.
The childhood innocence and naivety in this video is funny and heart-warming, but the message is eye-opening and sad. Physical inactivity is a growing problem throughout the developed world, and this video should motivate people to think more about how we can work towards potential solutions.
This one is a personal favourite. Lifted from different sports films, these speeches are as full of motivational value as they are American cliché. I find particular power in the line: “Team is something you belong to. Something you feel.” The best teams that I have played in trust and play for each other completely; something amazingly special to be part of.
There’s something powerful about this video; the backdrop of Missy Elliott, the pace and strength, the women who are simply delighting at being active. The best bit? When the music cuts out and the breathlessness comes in. That’s a feeling I know and love, and one that everyone should have the opportunity to experience, no matter what societal norms may tell us.
Serena Williams is one of the world’s greatest athletes and an inspirational role model. She’s been the feature of many a motivational montage, but this one stands out because of the footage it uses. Amazingly strong, skilled, beautiful, competitive, determined, cool – this is about defying expectations.
Originally a Nike advert, this video is made by the voiceover script. It’s about pushing yourself, and is simultaneously generous and harsh. It’s not restricted to elite athletes either, everyone has had to battle with their inner fears and insecurities at some point.
This is a BBC sporting montage at its best. Panoramic cinematography of Rio merged with a reminder of some fabulous athletic moments. Eddie Butler’s poetic and direct monologue articulates the beauty, colour and power of sport perfectly. Sport can’t be isolated from wider society; it reflects us, our cultures and relationships.
Nike do like a motivational voiceover advertisement. Rolled out to coincide with London 2012, this one has a more touching message. Sport is not something just for elite athletes – it’s something for everyone. It’s not about being superhuman; its trials and tribulations are totally and completely human.
1) The Underdog
This is my number one simply because it was that first video link my captain sent. It resonated with me because I’m not the most talented or skilful player, but I am committed and hardworking. Sport, at its heart, is entirely personal. It mirrors our relationships, hopes, and desires with its colour, drama and intrigue.
KATIE SMITH, 21
REPORT: Women’s Boat Race 2016
The Cambridge Women’s crew will re-live nightmares of relentless white horses engulfing their sinking boat for some time, as they went through hell and high water, literally, losing to Oxford University in the 2016 Women’s Boat Race. On only the second occasion that the women’s event has joined the men’s on the gruelling 4.2-mile course along the Tideway, Oxford’s cox and hero of the day Morgan Baynham-Williams made a bold steering decision which led to a 71-second victory over their Light Blue rivals in the most treacherous conditions seen in recent years.
The unpredictable River Thames once again asserted itself as the third villainous competitor in the race and forced the two coxes, Baynham-Williams and Rosemary Ostfeld, to choose between the two fundamentals of competitive rowing: speed, or stability? The women’s race got under way on time with Oxford’s crew getting the worst of the standing starts and trailing in the first hundred metres. Both boats contained three returning Blues all of whom would rely on their past knowledge of the Tideway today. Cambridge, the heavier of the two crews by 4.3kg per person, had the stream advantage around the first significant bend at Hammersmith Bridge, but were unable to utilise this as the experienced Oxford crew recovered from their hesitant start and pulled level before the bridge.
As expected, a quarter of a million spectators braved stormy west London for the race, spread along the course as well known for its frequent and atmospheric watering holes as it is for this dramatic side-by-side battle upon the Thames. The river looked more like a nightmare seaside resort as the crews rounded the Hammersmith bend and were affronted by cross winds and peaking waves that tumbled into the boats. Rough water such as that is the truest test of technique and Oxford extended their lead to several lengths as Cambridge struggled to maintain any power or rhythm in the turbulent conditions.
You would be forgiven for feeling mystified as to why the two boats seem determined to occupy the same tiny space on the river when there are acres of empty water on either side. It is due to how fast the water is moving at certain points in the river and this year’s race became the clash of the coxes, cunningly navigating what is a sort of water motorway with slow and fast lanes, an invisible battle for most of us watching. The other eight women in each boat, the engines, unaware of this ensuing game of cat and mouse between the banks of the river, continue to dig their oars deep and count down the strokes.
Despite the fastest stream being located in the roughest section of water, 21-year-old Baynham-Williams made a decision almost unheard of in Boat Race history coming past Chiswick Pier, to steer her crew away from the middle of the river towards the Middlesex bank into more tranquil waters. Tranquil, but slow. However, her daring move paid off as Cambridge, who maintained their line in the fast water and began to flounder and sink in an oncoming tirade of grey Thames water, watched Oxford pull away to six lengths clear at Barnes Bridge.
It was a desperate sight as Umpire Rob Clegg signalled for Cambridge to make their way to the bank to be picked up. “If you want to,” he added. He was promptly ignored. Ostfeld had no intentions of stopping and led her crew, shivering and exhausted, into the slacker water to finally finish 24 lengths behind the Dark Blues, leaving the overall record at 41-30 in Cambridge’s favour.
OPINION PIECE: Poetry and the Olympic Games
“A flower still in bud
Eludes the police, pierces the asphalt.
Observe complete silence, stop all business,
I swear a flower grew.”
The lines above, taken from ‘A flor e a Náusea’ (The flower and the Nausea) by renowned Brazilian poet Carlos Drumond de Andrade, were delivered by British national treasure Dame Judi Dench at the Rio 2016 Olympic Opening Ceremony. It was a poignant moment upon the stage as a young boy watched, puzzled, as a delicate flower pushed its way through the asphalt of the surrounding urban rage. The message was an Olympic staple: there is always hope even in times and sites of great struggle and strife. However, what remained less obvious is poetry’s role in the Olympic Games. Why is Judi Dench rambling on about metaphorical flowers and seeds of hope when we have come to see Laura Trott fly around the velodrome and Tom Daley dive splashlessly into a pool?
In fact, poetry has always been part of the Olympics, stretching back to its origins in Ancient Greece. Poets such as Pindar and Bacchylides would perform victory odes for the winners. The poems, or more precisely the songs as most poetry was accompanied by music and dancing, mirrored the movement of the competitors’ splendorous athletic bodies. Poetry was used to reward victorious athletes, they in turn supported the poets’ craft and both activities were always subject to fierce competition.
When the Modern Games were revived in 1896 by Pierre de Coubertin, his vision was to return to the Ancient Greek ideal of mind and muscle uniting to complete the individual. He introduced a now near-forgotten Olympic Arts competition alongside the sports tournament where medals could be won for poetry and architecture amongst other things. In Stockholm 1912, Coubertin controversially won the gold medal for a poem which he entered under a pseudonym whilst simultaneously sitting on the judging panel. When the Olympics returned to London in 2012, poetry was woven into the very fabric of the Games. The entrance to the athletes’ village was inscribed with the final line of Tennyson’s ‘Ulysses’: “To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.” The line perfectly encapsulates the fragile balance between the magic and grandeur of Olympic competition alongside its inherent risk of failure.
So is poetry still relevant in a competition now synonymous with flexed muscles, flashing scoreboards and hordes of avid sports fans? Is Coubertin correct to insist that we cast our minds back to a disparate classical age in which sport and poetry, mind and muscle, were given equal importance? For the Greeks, poetry and sport were a way to celebrate the divine. But for us, perhaps, it is a way to navigate the ever-changing currents of the modern world.
Literature is integral in mapping out the role of sport in international understanding, education, fair and healthy competition and peaceful co-existence. Even the official rhetoric surrounding the Games is crafted and poetic, something we see in every stride that Bolt takes, and every tumble Simone Biles performs. Lord Coe’s speech at the 2012 Opening Ceremony began with the affirmation “in every Olympic sport there is all that matters in life”. The Olympic Games becomes a stage on which poetic language can, like sport, inspire, teach and create change. Poetry provides an opportunity to comment on the cities, on the people, and on the legacy of the greatest show on earth. The motto chosen for Rio 2016 was “A New World” and if the flower of the poem is given space to flourish, perhaps the Olympics will be equipped to help this happen.
SPORTING TOP 10: Alternative purchases you could make for the price of Premier League players bought in the 2016-17 transfer windows
10) Odion Ighalo moved from Watford to Chinese side Changchun Yatai for £20 million. With that cheque, you could purchase 80,000,000 Freddo chocolate bars despite their outrageous price hike to 25p per unit!
9) Christian Benteke went from Anfield to Crystal Palace for £27 million, the equivalent of 6,750,000 matchday pies at Selhurst Park. At £4 for a pie, they are the joint most expensive pies in the Premier League, so not a bad deal.
8) Moussa Sissoko transferred from Newcastle to Tottenham for £30 million, which would provide you with 50,505 years’ worth of Sky Sports action. I guess there’s no excuse now to ever miss a game again.
7) N’Golo Kanté moved from Leicester City to Chelsea for £32 million. A sum only a mere nine times higher than the record-breaking 3.38 million album copies that Adele sold in 25’s first week of release. Yet £32 million still remains almost three times cheaper than the world record transfer fee.
6) Granit Xhaka went from Borussia Mönchengladbach to Arsenal for £33.8 million, which could win you 135 seats for a trip into space with Virgin Galactic. However, with Trump now in office, perhaps outer space is the best place to be!
5) Sadio Mané moved from Southampton to Liverpool for £34 million. With some small Caribbean Islands currently selling for about £10 million, for the price of one Mané, you could get yourself three and a bit islands of paradise.
4) Shkodran Mustafi was sent from Valencia to Arsenal for £35 million, with which you could purchase a whopping 7,000,000 pints of Carlsberg at Wembley. At £5 a pint they don’t come cheap either. That means every person at Wembley Stadium could have 77.7 pints whilst watching the match. Maybe don’t drink them all in one go, though!
3) Leroy Sané left Schalke 04 for Manchester City for £37 million. With that money he could supply the team with 12,333,333 bottles of Head and Shoulders shampoo. Now that Joe Hart is on loan at Torino, they may be in short supply.
2) John Stones went the shorter distance from Everton to Manchester City for a huge £47.5 million. That cheque could cover you to buy the entire Iceland football team who beat England last summer at the Euros and still have £15 million to spare. Perhaps another Caribbean island, too?
1) A world record transfer fee saw Paul Pogba move from Juventus to Manchester United for £89 million. This sum of money is so large it would be enough to give every single person in the UK £1.37. You could get five extra Freddos for that!
KATIE WHYATT, 18
REPORT: Bolton Wanderers 0 Bradford City 0
Almost, but not quite. For all the uncertainty about how the travelling support would mark the moment erstwhile boss Phil Parkinson emerged from the tented tunnel (with indifference, as it transpired), there was only one way things would go on the field. Two insistently stoic defences who give little away. Two teams who, although loftily placed in the league, rarely fire home for fun. If fans’ apathy towards Parkinson was unexpected, the outcome was not. Bradford City were, again, fluid if not threatening. Bolton looked handier in the final third, but their greater rigidity was recognisable.
It felt subdued against the tumultuous backstory. Parkinson, Bradford chief for five seasons of unprecedented progress, departed unceremoniously in the summer to leave Bradford to rebuild with club legend Stuart McCall. No love is lost, by all accounts, but proceedings became metronymic today. Romain Vincelot / Nathaniel Knight-Percival / Timothee Dieng (delete as appropriate) would rob Sammy Ameobi or James Henry (again, delete as appropriate) on the edge the box. Bradford would spin the ball from the back, move swiftly, skid off the tracks in the final third. Bolton would launch diagonals while breaking for the counter, work an opening, and Vincelot / Knight-Percival / Dieng would read their lines, right on cue, and the cycle would restart, like clockwork, as foregone a conclusion as the sunrise. Two outwardly different styles of play – Parkinson with his team of wind-up-and-go toys, Bradford City’s bruising intensity born of McCall’s hands-in-the-cake-mix approach – splitting possession, filling time, innocuously firing blanks. About a minute in, Jay Spearing struck a fierce piledriver that Colin Doyle dived manically to palm away. But proceedings plateaued. The rest was white noise, a futile sideshow to the ostinato of arcing clearances.
McCall had hoped Marc McNulty would answer the goalscoring doubts that dog his side: with McNulty a lone striker, and Billy Clarke at ten, the drifting Mark Marshall and spatially aware Nicky Law, would, in theory, bridge the gap between the front pairing. The discordance was visible, but there were compelling moments, McNulty bringing down Clarke’s looping ball in the second half but spurning the guilt-edged chance as he squared instead for Marshall to blast wide. Ameobi began with intent, but Bradford’s defence stood firm.
The discourse has repeatedly, painfully, tried to paint these managers as poles apart: Parkinson’s sides viscous, Bradford metamorphosed in his absence as they enjoy a more latent formational discipline. On Friday, former Ipswich Town defender Richard Naylor discussed the ease with which teams adapt to plan Bs, in response to a growing consensus Leeds United have reverted to Garry Monk’s initial vision. Naylor believed better players instigate in-game changes themselves, eschewing rigidity for instinct.
Law operates in a similar bind, heading up an industrious but wise midfield that glide and float one beat ahead of the rest. Law embodies their guile, emerging from wormholes unruffled as he dips the ball to Clarke. Although concerns abound that City lack an effective strikeforce, the ease with which the midfield persistently reincorporate a rotating cast of forwards bodes better than a sterner specification.
Nonetheless, the hamartia remains. When James Meredith met Jamie Proctor’s misdirected pass deep into stoppage time and found Jordy Hiwula on the edge of the 18-yard box, the stench of missed opportunity abounded as the Huddersfield loanee fumbled a shot that Mark Howard nonchalantly collected. City will face few defences stauncher than Bolton’s but equally their own stubborn defending cannot mask their shortcomings forever. For all the talk of difference and divergence, perhaps both sides were more alike than they realised.
FEATURE: The joy of dragon-boating
Amidst the final relics of autumnal foliage, amber-veined leaves drifting lazily alongside the snaking river, the silence is interrupted by paddles scything and churning the water. This unmarred corner of the world is a law unto itself, tamed only by the brown hulk of a clubhouse on the furthest bank.
A boat bends round the corner, cutting a silhouette against the grey sky. It is here that the Bradford Barracudas, the UK’s very first community dragon boat club, dash through the waters on this frigid Saturday morning, paddlers lining either side of the craft, arms thrashing but taut, the bow gliding, limbs and paddle one. The boats are wooden, today, humbly decorated, but dragon-boating is given to flamboyance: at competitions boats clamour for attention, behemothic, towering dragon heads at the bow, adorned in colours encapsulating the sport’s Chinese origins.
The environs of Doe Park are humbling but far removed from Rome, where, in July, Barracudas captain Tracy-Marie Dickinson scooped two silver medals and a bronze in the European International Championships – around a year after she accidentally fell into the sport and helped build the club.
“I was asked to do a favour for someone at a corporate charity event and cover a boat without a crew,” Dickinson explains. “I got a crew together, spent the day paddling this boat that I’d never paddled in my life. But we managed to beat 22 boats.”
The Bradford Barracudas were born in 2016. “Until then, I’d had to travel up and down the country to find somewhere to paddle, because I’d got hooked. But we have our own club now.” She trialled for Team GB in March 2016; Rome glory followed.
“Rome was surreal,” she reflects. “I can’t get used to going back to work – I want to be on the water all the time. We were paddling for five days and they were nine-hour days. We were getting up early in the morning, doing heats in 40 degrees – it was really, really hard work, but such an achievement to get on the podium three times.”
2017 sees the World Championships return to China. “I’m training now, but the competition to get in the squad is massive,” Dickinson admits. “At the last count, there were about 90 people trying to get in the squad of 22. You have to have to be one of the best athletes to get through trials and hit the squad before GB training. It would be the biggest achievement to head off to Shang-Hai.”
Dickinson’s joie de vivre is obvious. A mum of five, she balances time on the water with a full-time job.
“I think it’s just pure will and commitment, wanting to do so well,” Dickinson reflects. “It’s just fitting in the time – being in the gym, every single lunchtime, using the gym at work, spending my evenings in the gym. It’s building up the core, and then getting in as much water-time as I can. You’ve got to be very committed, but still try to fit in your family time. It’s not easy, but the overall experience and what you get at the end is immense.
“That time is me. I absolutely love being on the water. As much as we all have to go out to work, if I could just sit in a boat all day long and train …” She breaks off wistfully. “One day, I’m hoping it will be an Olympic sport. Until then, I’m going to dream on China – and put 100 per cent in until I get there.”
SPORTING TOP 10: Most bizarre football press conferences
Gary Neville says footballers should prepare for press conferences like matches, given the myriad avenues for chaos. Journalists dread the tension of the post-match interview. At their best, they’re insightful; worst, bridge-burning exercises. Emerging unscathed requires thick skin and a strong sense of humour – and often, they’re plain bizarre.
10) Ian Holloway
Ian Holloway: the well-intentioned uncle you can’t take anywhere. “You’re looking for a young lady and you pull one,” the then-QPR boss said in 2003, analogising his team’s win over Chesterfield. “Some weeks, they’re good looking and some weeks, they’re not the best. Our performance today would have been not the best looking bird, but at least we’d have gone home in a taxi with her, if that makes sense.” Not really, Ian, no.
9) David Wagner
Relationship wisdom from Huddersfield Town Head Coach David Wagner. Town’s October opponents Derby County had just rekindled their relationship with former flame Steve McClaren, after the initial dalliance had ended in heartbreak seven months earlier – begging the question: should you ever go back? “Well,” began the amiable German, “in Germany, we say it is about the girlfriend.”
8) Sean Dyche
Sean Dyche is in the middle of media duties when the crackle of a journalist’s mobile interrupts him – and Dyche answers. “It’s Sean Dyche, the manager of Burnley,” he tells the bemused caller, twice. “You rang to disturb me so I just thought I’d answer, see what you were disturbing me about.” Hang up. Now.
7) Jonny Evans
Where is David Wagner when you need him? Jonny Evans blushed in a Manchester United Champions League press conference in 2009, when a journalist asked him if he was about to tie the knot. “I don’t really want to talk about that here,” said Evans, “especially because my girlfriend’s in the middle of you all. She’s on placement at ITV this week.”
6) Rafa Benitez
The then-Liverpool boss denounced Alex Ferguson in 2009, when the Reds and Manchester United waged a gripping title challenge. Benitez read a list of facts about referees for over five minutes in a speech akin to a public service announcement – Ferguson was at home, laughing.
5) Claudio Ranieri
Pavlov’s dogs for the 21st century, as everyone’s favourite Premier League manager revealed he waved an imaginary bell if his players’ standards fell – and bought everyone at the club said instrument for Christmas. “I tell them, ‘Dilly-ding! Dilly-dong!’ when they are slipping, no?” he explained, complete with hand gestures. “Dilly-ding! Dilly-dong! Wake up!”
4) Joey Barton, in Marseille
Next time, just learn the language.
3) Ian Holloway
Ian Holloway: the gift that keeps on giving. Never given to inarticulacy, the then-Blackpool manager met claims that Fifa were considering moving the 2020 World Cup to winter with his unique turn of phrase. “You wait ‘til I get home. I’m gonna tell my turkeys, ‘It ain’t Christmas – we’re moving it. Don’t worry – you’ve got some respite’.”
2) Kevin Keegan
The title race for the ages in 1995-96. Newcastle’s powers waned at the turn of the year as Manchester United reduced a 12-point gap to one. Ferguson left bait too tempting to ignore as he suggested teams do not try as hard against Newcastle as they do against Manchester United. Kevin Keegan snapped and the clip remains iconic. Watching Keegan’s words lolloping ungainly, tumbling over each other like Bambi on ice as his hands thrash manically, is as heartbreaking as it is endearing. Love it.
1) Eric Cantona
Eric Cantona uttered a riddle worthy of the Sphinx in 1995, in the media maelstrom following his infamous kung-fu kick. “When the seagulls follow the trawler,” he begins enigmatically, pausing darkly. “It’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.” He left abruptly, and the room hung, stunned, in limbo.