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PDC World Series Arrives in New Zealand

The PDC’s packed summer schedule returns to Australasia this weekend for its latest event. The first of three Oceanic events will be The Auckland Darts Masters. The field, as in all the World Series events, features 16 players made up of a combination of PDC stars and local qualifiers.

Taylor v Wright 2017

Taylor’s previous dominance will not be repeated even by MVG.

Phil “The Power” Taylor will be attempting to capitalise on his Matchplay triumph and celebrate his 57th birthday in style. Taylor’s recent efforts have boosted interest, in whether he can bow out with a 17th world title.

Defending champion Gary Anderson will try to add, the 2017 Auckland title, to the Dubai event he claimed in May. Micheal Van Gerwen is absent with the Netherlands being represented by Raymond Van Barneveld the 2015 runner-up. Micheal Smith and Daryl Gurney, fresh from his superb Matchplay semi-final, will play in their first and second World Series events respectively.

Kyle Anderson

Kyle Anderson, one of four players, so far in 2017, to claim their maiden PDC title.

Australasian interest is boosted by a returning Simon Whitlock and Kyle Anderson who claimed his first PDC Pro Tour final last weekend, hitting perfect leg along the way. Corey Cadby, the reigning world youth champion, also proved dangerous in 2016. Cody Harris, who   reached the later stages of the Winmau World Masters in 2015, Rob Szabo, Mark Cleaver, Warren Parry, Rob Modra and, TV debutant, Darren Herewini complete the list of local talent.

Whitlock & White

Simon Whitlock, will be looking to continue his recent resurgence in the Auckland Masters.

Peter Wright and James Wade will also represent the PDC and be will be searching for their first World Series title. The Auckland Darts Masters will be held , at the Kents Arena, from Friday through to Sunday and is in association with TAB and Burger King.

 

Blackpool Power Gets Final Charge!

Phil Taylor collects his 16th and final World Matchplay title in glorious style. “The Power’s” final season in professional darts is proving more than a fairytale.

Taylor’s previous dominance will not be repeated even by MVG.

Having followed his progress through to the final, of this years World Matchplay, it can safely be said that the vast majority of darts fans were hoping that Taylor would pull off the remarkable achievement of winning the two most difficult title in the game a record sixteen times a piece. Many of the notable facts surrounding his win have been discussed over the last two weeks. His age, 56, his no longer playing the main tour, the improvement in other players, his more relaxed/carefree attitude and the huge gap that he will leave when he holsters his darts for the final time after the 2017/8 World Professional Darts Championship this December. Yet even these valid points do not seem to do justice to this remarkable effort.

The toughest test in darts?

The format of the Matchplay demands excellence and consistency from game one through to the end. As this event pitches the top 16 players by ranking, against the top 16 on current form, there are no easy games and very few that could be described as easier. Taylor’s 1st round opponent, Gerwyn Price, has reached a major final in 2017, as well as the final of the world cup with his Welsh teammate (Mark Webster), and is ranked inside the top twenty both overall and on current form. The format of first to ten, and by two legs, ensures that the throw is not as important as in other events and that no game can be won by winning a handful of important legs. The event keeps getting tougher as you move through the rounds with little or no time off during the later stages. Contrast this with The World Championships were the initial stages can be against qualifiers or lowly ranked players and can be won in second or even third gear. The final weekend can involve playing over 80 legs against the very best players in the world. To be able to do that at the highest standard at the age of 56 is simply unprecedented.

Taylor’s Route Harder Than Ever?

“The Power” dominated Wright in a style he has made his own.

As mentioned above Taylor’s first round draw was tough. But due to his currently being ranked only 4th in the world his route to the title was as hard, if not harder than for many years. His second round opponent was five time world champion, and current world No.8, Raymond Van Barneveld. Although this rivalry has often seemed come down in Phil’s favour it should be remembered that a resurgent “Barney” had bested Phil in the 2017 World Championships. Next up, MVG! Playing Micheal regularly is a pretty tough business and has already put a severe dent in one or two players belief. However Phil has played a very clever game in how he has scaled back his playing over the last couple of years. Thus any damage done by MVG has been very limited. Taken since 2012, when MVG began to surge, “The Power” only trails 18-23 in terms of wins and losses and is ahead 33-25 overall. Many of the games were tight and Phil had chance to win others. Over their last 10 encounters Phil has won 6-4 including short, medium and long format matches. Thus his 16-7 win ensured that MVG does not have it all his own way in 2017. It was then Phil’s turn to do what many failed to do during his reign as undisputed No.1, namely to go on and win after slaying the dragon.

The semi final performance was a reminder of the way Taylor has defeated quicker streak players over the years. Consistency and not bowing to pressure were the hall-mark of this years triumph and were epitomised vs Lewis. To then play the world No.3 over the long format final should have proven a tougher task but Peter Wright was playing against history and a tiring schedule of his own. Taylor’s post match interview gave an insight into how he reframes the situation to his advantage. His opinion that Wright was showing signs of tiredness ensured that he felt the upper hand during the game. In summary playing worlds number 8, 1, 5 and 3 back to back, after a difficult first round, with all of them in good form and some having the recent upper hand on you is a tough ask. Yet again “The Power” refused to be daunted.

Going Out on a High.

Although the difficulty of comparing sports is obvious, and the task of comparing era’s is also somewhat precarious, the occasion of a champion enjoying his final competitive season is one that all sports share and many fans will have memories of. Yet is there another example of a player having a thirty year career, announcing his retirement prior to a final season, still being ranked in the top five and winning one their sports premier/major events in such style?

Most sports superstars retire due to a waning of their own powers in comparison with those coming to their peak. Many still continue to play, even if slightly less, and slip quietly down the rankings until they either join a senior tour or move to the press/commentary box. Often it is many years from their last great triumph. Think about Nick Faldo or Greg Norman in golf, Davis & Hendry in Snooker or McEnroe in Tennis. Each of these champions had excellent single days or one-off events during the Autumn of their careers but they had long since stopped being considered real threats and often were entered for events based on past glories. Taylor could enter any event he wished, on merit, and would still be selected for any and all invitation events regardless of criteria.

Relaxed and laid back? Maybe but still in possession of an amazing will to win.

Rob Cross: A Remarkable Example and a New PDC Era?

Author note 1: I wrote the piece below in April 2017. Rob Cross was making a tremendous impact and it seemed to be a watershed moment in the development of the PDC. I may well have underestimated it! Voltage crashed into the Grand Slam and is tearing up the field, he is also likely to rise even higher in the rankings than I suggested in the conclusion to this piece and I suspect he is a game or two away from the Premier League .( CJHH: Nov 17)

Rob Cross at the UK Open. Pic: PDC

Rob Cross caught my attention, as a player, a couple of years ago. During the 2016 UK Open lot of fuss was made of Barry Lynn, however, it was Cross’s talent and attitude that struck me as worth watching. His remarkable subsequent progress could prove an example for others and a validation of the PDC in their efforts to build a sustainable career path for new players.

In its early years, the PDC’s Pro Tour was quite a slow-moving and shy animal. In its original form any player could register with the PDPA and then pay to enter these events. Many hoped to gain enough points/pounds to qualify for the bigger events and kick-start a professional career. Others simply played for the challenge, and pleasure, of playing with the very best.

A Truly Professional Game?

In 2010/11 it was decided to restructure the system and build a structure, similar to that used in golf and tennis, that offered a pathway for players with talent to progress through. The rival organisation’s route, despite its flaws, can also provide players with a path. But progress has been slow, many of the same players dominated for long periods and only those who swapped from the top of the BDO system seemed to become established within the PDC.  This is not to say that many other players, from various darting backgrounds, did not perform superbly for a limited period or that a small number did not break into the top rank after an extended period of trying. Justin Pipe & Peter Wright demonstrated what could be achieved.

Since 2011 the elements of the PDC Tour have grown into a cohesive professional structure that can guide players from their youth performances ( Development Tour) through to a 2nd level tour (Challenge Tour) tour and, via the Qualifying School, then the truly professional ranks of the Pro Tour, European Tour and Majors.  This system offers a set of building blocks toward a top-flight career.

The costs are substantially less than the Pro Tour, the prize money, and other incentives, have been set at levels which allow any determined player to be able to take part. The facilities, venues and atmosphere are virtually identical to the highest level events (non TV) and thus genuine acclimatisation and development are both possible and rewarded. But only when a genuinely new player has demonstrated that this path and structure is viable, for high level and long-term success, can it be classed as a true pathway to professionalism.

PDC’s MVP?

Rob Cross may be a very important player in the progress of PDC darts. He has become the first player to take advantage of all the adult opportunities offered by the new system, winning at every level, and move to the brink of top-flight success. Along the way, he has illustrated some of the other elements available to the modern player and how to gain the maximum from them.

Cross’s composure vs MVG was a huge clue.

Path to Success

Rob broke through by winning qualification to the UK Open in 2016. The qualifying events are completely amateur in nature,  taking place in Riley’s clubs across the UK, but are overseen by the PDC and abide by their basic framework. They immensely difficult to win and often have a very strong field of ex-Pro Tour players, strong BDO players and other very experienced local performers. The vast majority of qualifying players do not progress, past their first couple of games, in the TV event. Rob Cross, however, overcame serious opposition from Pro Tour players, including former Premier League players, and played matches of up to 17 legs, to reach the last 32. He then found himself up against Michael Van Gerwen. Despite the defeat (5-9), he stood up to a complete barrage of other world darts, including a 9 dart leg and a 170 finish, from MVG. He played his own game and performed superbly well. It could be argued that the relaxation of playing a lesser known player, combined with Rob’s strong performance led to MVG producing what he did.

Cross made short work of the PDC’s 2nd Tier.

Next stop was the PDC Challenge Tour. Carrying his momentum from the UK Open, and obvious good form, he reached a final immediately and continued in such fashion for the entire season. His three tour victories ensured that he topped the Challenge Tour Order of Merit and gained an automatic tour card for 2017. In doing so Cross proved that he could win at the next available level of PDC competition, avoided having to attend Q School in January 2017 and could look forward to the 2017 Professional UK Open Qualifiers.

Career Planning and Progression.

In the Autumn of 2016 Cross made another excellent decision, one that may have been at least partly down to the new PDC system. John Archer, a former PDC player, had moved into management and promotion of players. John is a very knowledgeable and straightforward individual who provides good support to his players. His offer to support Rob and the acceptance of that decision seems to have provided the final piece in the jigsaw for Rob’s success. Whether this was due to financial calculations or for support and assistance, with his future career, it was a very smart move. Players, such as Justin Pipe, have made huge progress after easing the burden on themselves as early career professionals. For Cross and Nevada to join hands at this stage was a very astute step.

Professional UK Open Qualifiers.

It appears that considerable thought was given to Rob’s debut season on the Pro Tour. In the early stages he took part in the UK Open qualifiers, performing superbly. Very few players, without considerable high level experience, collect £’s in every one of their first six of these events and in reaching a semi-final more great experience was gained. Thus a first TV major as a professional qualifier was secured. No European tour qualifiers were undertaken at this point. Again choosing from the available experiences and opportunities in a way which would have been scarcely possible a couple of years ago.

Players Championships & UK Open 2017

Next would come another leap in progression. Rob’s Players Championship (PC) debut, February 2017, was steady, these events are seeded, different in atmosphere and tougher in terms of ability. He then returned to the UK Open, this time as a top-ranked professional qualifier, and managed to improve on his 2016 performance reaching the last 16 stage. This was a more significant step than it may appear. When returning to the scene of previous success players are no longer surprise packages and also gain more attention. The pressures are different and not easy to adjust to.

Returning to the PC events, the following weekend, Cross produced a superb performance to triumph in only his third top-tier event. Along the way, Rob defeated former champions, new generation champions and legends of the game, including Raymond Van Barneveld in the qtr finals. He has since added another Players Championship victory to his total and many other later stage efforts. In a debut year this is simply outstanding.

Whitlock and White.
Both defeated, in important matches ,
by Cross in 2017. Pic: PDC

European Tour.

During the weekend of his remarkable PC win Rob also gained his first experience of the Euro Tour qualifiers. After being unsuccessful at the first attempt he managed to qualify for the German Darts Open and has since qualified for four more events, with more qualifiers to come.

These events operate on a hybrid of UK Open and Players Championship formulae. Upon qualification, you are placed into a seeded draw featuring the top-ranked and form players. But games are played singly on stage over a three-day period. It appears that the combination worked very well. Rob has reached the Qtr Finals of three out of four events, gained stage wins over players such as Whitlock and Chisnall whilst adding more ranking £’s toward this seasons major events. This may well be the best consistent performance of any qualifier for this tour. Experience and success here are possibly the most beneficial for any new player. For many years experience, of stage games, large audiences and the single-game high-pressure atmosphere was difficult to come by. Qualifying players were at a huge disadvantage, and often did not play to their fullest potential, as a result. This has been steadily changing since the introduction and expansion of this very successful branch of the PDC structure.

Majors, Worlds and Rankings.

Following this remarkable start to his career, I can find no other who will have achieved so much from a standing start, Cross has qualified for every available event for the rest of 2017. This will include debuts at: The World Matchplay, The World Grand Prix, The European Championships, The Grand Slam, Players Championship Finals and The World Professional Championships.  Only invitational events will be missing from his list from now to the end of the year, even here, however, the PDC has been known to vary this if it can be justified?

Looking at previous debut, and early career, players it is likely that those in similar formats to those regularly played will offer the best chance. Players Championship Finals and the European Championships would seem likely opportunities for Rob to do well. Yet we would be foolish to rule out another leap in achievement. The Grand Prix and then The World Champs offer great reward for fewer wins.

The rankings system will be very important to Rob. The higher he can climb, on all tables, the easier it will be to sustain the success he is achieving. Seedings in certain events and guarantees of tour card retention and a certain income relieve many pressures. His current rank of 52 is superb in such a short time but will be eclipsed at the end of this season.

Based on a simply maintaining his current standard Rob is a certainty for the top 32. The top 20 is likely and, with a strong run or two in a major event, especially the World Champs, he could even break into the top 16. For any PDC debutant these are superb achievements. For a player without significant previous experience they are outstanding and possibly even unique.

In addition to his own remarkable success Cross has demonstrated that the new structure of the PDC, together with smart career planning and a professional attitude, can provide a perfect path to the very top of the game. No need to slog around the BDO for years on end, no need to join the tour and spend years and £000’s learning to adapt to all the different formats, atmosphere, stages, formats etc. Make no mistake,it still takes a player of immense talent and a superb attitude to pull this off, but it has been shown to be possible!

All dart players, and fans. should keep an eye on Mr Rob Cross. and wish him well in progressing, and sustaining, a potentially groundbreaking career in what is fast becoming a truly professional game!


Author note 2: The rest they say is history, Cross went on to outstrip even my wild optimism for his success. World Champion in Jan 2018 and the story continues to this day……….(Jan 2020)

501 or More: Challenge Tour 2017 Events 9-12.

The fourth weekend continued  the rough pattern developed over the previous three in 2017. Strong performances, from the “Yo Yo’s” with the “New Brooms” chipping in again.

Wayne Jones, Andy Smith and Alex Roy for the Yo Yo’s. Jaques, Aspinall and Josh Richardson doing damage in bursts for the new brooms. The leaderboard remains relatively stable but the bunching up behind “The Wanderer” is getting closer.

Pieman Adapts to New Menu!

2011 Ladbrokes.com World Darts Championship - Day Eleven

As predicted, Andy Smith’s slow start burst into life this weekend. The Pieman has the skill and persona to thrive on this tour and is beginning to do so. Steady results on Saturday were followed by a strong run to Sunday’s final. Andy’s draw on Sunday was pretty tough and this seemed to pull the best out of him. He has now crashed into the top 16 on the Order of Merit and is likely to rise again during the later stages of the season.

A Fine Double Act! 

Black Country pairing of Nick Fullwell and Ian Jones should be familiar to anyone who plays open events around the midlands. Travelling partners, and friends, the two have been a regular, and winning, fixture for many years. The arrival of Jones on the PDC tour was always likely to result in Fullwell benefiting. This Sunday featured a Semi Final for each of them and you can rest assured it will not be the last. Almost no one associated with darts would begrudge Nick the extra support , and motivation, which Ian can provide. As for “Whippet” now that he has begun to acclimatise, to regular PDC events, his legendary will to win and battling qualities will become familiar to many more.

A Learning Curve?

challenge tour logo

Radaslaw Szaganski and Robert Rickwood have added two more names to the rush of players proving that past performance is not always a current guide. Neither of these two players had performed outstandingly on the Unicorn Challenge Tour previously, despite Rickwood having solid performances this year, yet Robert claimed a victory and Radaslaw a runner’s up spot in events 9 & 10 respectively. Evidence is beginning to build regarding the benefit of patience and exposure to PDC conditions and formats. A look at the Pro Tour Players Championship events of 2017 will confirm that this is applying at all levels.

Ashton Watch

A no-show from Lisa this weekend. This is probably a very sensible action. She must be able to keep her options open for as long as possible. Although she has shown herself to be competitive, on the tour, the other opportunities available to her mean that she has a chance to build her career in any code or gender balanced events. Should she choose to take part in the remaining events or simply play pick and mix for a while she is able to gain income, experience and confidence from the breadth available to her.

Next Generation

Three standout moments from the next younger players this weekend. Nathan Aspinall winning at this level marks another step in his development, due to his slightly unconventional style “The Asp” is underestimated by many. His match playing ability and talent level should gain him more opportunities at all levels in the coming years. The return to form, although too early to tell, of James Hubbard is welcome, he is a very nice young guy who has suffered severely in recent months. Finally Josh Richardson seems to be again making progress. His choices, in terms of event selection and attitude, seem good, together with his dad, and progress is being made.

Feel Good Story.

A few years ago Paul Harvey looked on the verge of a breakthrough into the higher levels of the game. He reached the semi final of the British Open in 2010 and was playing at a very high level through at least the early part of 2011. It is great to see a return to something approaching this form in recent months. Should he reach, or surpass, those previous levels then keep a very close eye on him.

Order of Merit.

Nathan Aspinall

Young Nathan Aspinall playing the role of David to James Wade’s Goliath in 2015

Jones and Dyer are still in the tour card positions but the pack behind is both expanding in numbers and condensing in terms of the differences between their totals. Wayne Jones is unlikely to slip out of the top two. The additional automatic tour card and the next eight places, earning a free Q School entry, are still available. Aspinall, Rickwood have shown that one victory makes a huge difference and others such as Andy Smith and Luke Humphries seem to be gathering momentum for the later part of the season.

All in all a very good advert for the Unicorn Challenge Tour and it’s likely to get even better in the coming weeks.

 

 

 

501 or more: Challenge Tour 2017 Events 5-8

Wins for the old guard, and a next-generation moment, provide the story of this weekend’s four events on the PDC Challenge Tour. Wayne Jones and Aaron Dyer lead the way overall.

Another Unicorn Challenge Tour weekend passes by and in many ways, it’s the same story. Three wins for former Pro Tour players, two for Wayne Jones and one for Mark Dudbridge, with others such as Kev McDine and Mark Frost making finals and semis. Jones is one of the game’s nice guys and a fierce competitor, it is good to see him bouncing back.

One exception to the normal run of events was the excellent win, in event 5, from Ryan Harrington. A number of darting dynasties have, or are being, formed in the last few years. Bobby and Richie George, Rod and Ryan Harrington and the two Alan Taberns are just three examples. In addition, a few of the up and coming generation have relatives who, although not household names, have strong reputations in the amateur game.

Outside the top two, the prize money is being shared around a little more with more new faces claiming Semi and Qtr Final places. Allen Edwards, Charlie Jackson and Luke Humphries all made the last four over the weekend’s events.

Ashton Watch!

Another good weekend for Lisa Ashton (our review of Challenge Tour 1-4 pointed out the reasons for a special interest in her success) making progress in almost every event this weekend. Good wins over tough players resulted in a 5th round appearance in event 8. This last 16 appearance may be the furthest yet achieved by a female player in a non-invitational, PDC Tour event. She is currently sitting at a solid 58 in the rankings.

The Disappeared?

There are a number of players who have flattered to deceive at this or higher levels and are struggling this year. Barry Lynn, who came within a place or two of gaining a tour card last year, seems to be struggling badly. Former PDC New Player of the Year Mark Hylton was a no-show after a very poor start to his season. Steve Maish, Pro Tour event winner, also seems to be fading from view.

League Table 

Wayne Jones now leads the order of merit with nearly £5000, w Aaron Dyer is in the other tour card claiming spot. Lee Evans, Mark Frost, Paul Milford, Alan Tabern, Ryan Harrington, Mark Dudbridge, Kev Dowling and Martin Lukeman make up the rest of the top ten spots. Less than £1000 separates position 20 from a place in the top ten and with more events than ever it could be a very interesting season. Some former “greats”, including Andy “The Pieman” Smith are struggling, to adapt and may come strong later, together with many who have recently proved themselves capable of winning at this level. Whether they can re-group time to make their mark on this years tour will be the deciding factor on whether the story will be “same old, same old” or ” Challenge Tour brings new life to PDC”.

 

 

501 or more: Challenge Tour 2017, Ashton & Dyer grab headlines.

challenge tour logo

The 2017 Challenge Tour (CT) season kicked off this weekend in its Wigan home. The PDC’s ‘second tier division’ has settled into a viable and consistent event over the last few years and is beginning to establish itself as part of a possible path for future professional players. Superb double wins from Aaron Dyer and the performance of Lisa Ashton draw most attention.

This year’s tour may see a significant move, away from the yo-yo process involving some former Pro Tour players, and some of the newer generation begin to break through. Yet at least some of those who have proven to be big fish in the smaller pond may prove difficult to dislodge. For example Alan Tabern (Semi Finalist in CT1 &2) and Mark Frost (Finalist CT1) have again made an impact during the opening weekends four events. Both players have had very strong performances on this tour, over the last two or three years, whilst still struggling to make a significant impact at the higher levels. Aaron DyerMartin Lukeman could be players to break through, based on recent efforts, with Lukeman also reaching the later stages of the UK Open as well as a final in CT 2.

A possible weakness of the tour, as a progression path, is the volume of players who have proven solid, and talented, but not able to survive on the main tour and are beginning to clog up the higher end of the second division. In addition players whose careers have dropped, after some very high peaks, are enjoying a bit of an Indian summer. It is reminiscent of footballers who are not quite good enough for the Premier League or those looking for an extended payday by dropping down a division, but whereas in team sports such movement can help young players, or unfancied teams, develope the opposite can be argued here.

At look at the last 16 from event 1 highlights the groups emerging. Aaron Dyer  (Winner CT2&4) and the aforementioned Lukeman  represent the newer players breaking through. Tabern, Wayne Jones, Kev McDine & Barrie Bates are examples of those who could be said to be trying to recapture former glory. Whilst Jim Walker, Mark Frost and Peter Hudson have proven, at best, inconsistent at the next level. There are many more in each group.

Ian Jones Whippet

Wolverhampton’s Ian Jones has finally entered a PDC tour and made a solid start. The Whippet is vastly experienced on both BDO and Open tours and has a fierce will to win. Given time to adapt he could prove a dangerous and valuable addition to the cast. At the other end of the age spectrum is Adam Smith Neale. If talent was the only factor Adam would already be a household name. Sadly his early development, as a player, went astray after a superb start. However lots of open success in the last 12 months, and what appears to be a solid return to form, should see progress made toward re-establishing himself as a threat. Pip Blackwell‘s entry into the event implies that the Challenge Tour is now being seen by BDO players as legitimate and perhaps a testing ground for deciding on future career paths.

Lisa Ashton’s strong performance could be a game changer for darts ,and the PDC, as well as the player herself. Already renowned in BDO circles, as a superb player, Ashton’s multiple victories, and close defeats to good quality players, may provide the template for a future unified sport. If this is indeed the turning point, the potential for TV, sponsors and all commercial area’s would be amazing. I cannot think of another mainstream TV sport in which there is a level playing field with Men & Women genuinely competing at the highest level.

BDO+Lakeside+World+Professional+Darts+Championships+g0JI8KN2O_Ul

In summary then the first four events of this year’s tour demonstrated its strengths and weaknesses. With twenty plus events scheduled for 2017 it should prove the most interesting yet.

 

501 or More: The BDO World Trophy

After a tough few months,  the BDO managed to get a free to air TV event, with a good field and decent prize fund, played over the Bank Holiday weekend on Dave TV. New sponsors were secured and many fans looked forward to a fresh start for players, officials and fans alike. After watching large slices of coverage and reviewing some of the predictions and comments made before and after the tournament, was the WDT a runaway success? A decent start, or another false dawn?

bdo-trophy640

TV Coverage
This was a definite success. Congratulations are due to Dave and the outside broadcast company. Some of the best elements of SKY coverage were added and most of the outdated BBC habits were removed. Whilst improvements could still be made, presenters knowledge and a few rough edges, the coverage and commentary was professional, refreshing, simple and in keeping with the sport.
The Darts

Daryl Fitton
Hit and miss would be the call here, there were some very entertaining games with new names and old favourites contributing well. Sadly there were a few too many poor games especially in the early stages and then The Final! In this respect it could be said to have been unlucky. Almost all the players capable of exceptional standards, and experienced enough to deliver them in those conditions, were knocked out earlier. The players were also disadvantaged by the BDO having very few other events with similar formats. Thus the long days told on the players especially those with less experience. A win for the well thought of veteran Daryl Fitton helped considerably.

The ladies event also proved a mixed bag. Lisa Ashton produced a performance that suggested darts should be a non segregated sport, by recording a 98 average over the course of a TV match. Sadly some other matches suggested that the ladies game is not yet strong enough in-depth for this amount of TV coverage to be a success.

lisa-ashton

The Organisation

This must go down as a near disaster. To change the format of a competition whilst it is running is very poor and to have to extend arranged television sessions shows poor planning. The late venue switch, together with poor marketing and ticket sales, did not create the image of a well backed sport full of star players that can attract new viewers and sponsors.

The Lakeside. Late switch and poor sales may dilute the "home of darts" brand

The Lakeside. Late switch and poor sales may dilute the “home of darts” brand

The securing of a major high street sponsor appears on the surface to be a great achievement. It is superb to see a non gambling, drinking or similar sponsor getting involved in darts. However a large note of caution must be sounded. The two sponsors were in fact one. Dunlop is a brand name owned by Sport Direct and although this is perfectly legitimate it remains to be seen the fees paid were similar to those expected for two main sponsors of a sports TV major. Secondly, Mike Ashley and his company are ruthless negotiators who extract large quid pro quo’s in return for their patronage. The current court cases involving Glasgow Rangers should serve as a warning. They are also expert at getting free or incredibly cheap advertising. There could be a risk here of making a deal with “the devil”.

Overall.

It will be impossible to give a true verdict on the success or failure of The WDT for a least a few months. If Dave or another similar channel are happy with the viewing figures, and the image presented, and sponsors willing to stay or get involved, then this may well have been the starting point of something very positive for the BDO.

However if it turns out that the sponsors paid little, the venue were unhappy with the crowds, and that the event was propped up by the BDO itself, then it will be difficult to see how their other main events including The Lakeside World Championship will thrive in the open market.

From a darts enthusiast’s point of view the event was mainly enjoyable with more positives than negatives. It reminded me of watching selected games from The Championship and then the play offs. Entertaining and dramatic in its own right with some players looking like they could compete in the top division. Yet still with the caveat that week in week out I would rather see the very best in action with huge crowds the best venues and professional standards in every area. So definitely a success.

But also perhaps one that provides an uncertain context for the future?

 

The English Can Coach!

With the recent end of the 2015/6 Premier League, the headcount of English managers is at an all time low. Three English coaches are in place with clubs that retain their top flight status.

Eddie Howe has done a tremendous job with Bournemouth, Alan Pardew has kept Palace in the division whilst reaching the FA Cup final and Sam Allardyce has, yet again, performed a minor miracle in keeping Sunderland afloat for another year.
To be completely fair, others including Tony Pulis and Mark Hughes are from these Isles and have spent their playing/coaching careers here. Sean Dyche and  Steve Bruce will re-enter the battle for 2016/7.

But one look at any shortlist for clubs in the market provides reason to conclude that ‘big Sam Allerdicci’ has a point when he claims the odds are stacked against Englishmen in terms of opportunity. It seems that big clubs, and many others, believe that only foreign or non-British managers can encourage a culture of passing football, cope with a big club and develop players into valuable assets.

Not only is it a nonsense claim, Eddie Howe has built a club culture of the highest order, Dyche inspires and develops in equal measure and Sam himself organises a club better than many,he has taken over from foreign managers and had to sort out awful messes more than once!

It is very easy to forget the lessons of sporting history. English managers have coached clubs and nations all over the globe and produced exceptional results:

Sir Bobby Robson:

PKT5141-380922 SIR ROBERT (BOBBY) ROBSON FOOTBALL MANAGER 1990 It was almost the final question of my last major Press conference which encapsulated the highs and lows l have experienced in the last eight years as the manager of England. 'This may seem funny coming from a newspaper like mine,' said the reporter from The Sun. 'But have you enjoyed the last eight years?' The query raised a few giggles from the audience of newspaper, radio and television journalists on that morning after England had succumbed so cruelly to West Germany in the World Cup semi-final. ln eight years l have learnt to pause for thought before replying to what might appear on the surface to be the most innocuous of questions. 'Technically,' l replied, 'l have enjoyed every minute of it, particulary the big match occasions. 'This is a big job abd the man filling it in is going to be subjected to all kinds of stresses and strains. If he can handle it he can get on with the job. If he can't then it will defeat him. It's been a lovely experience and l mean that in all sincerity. lt's been nice to work at the highest level in my industry. lt's been lovely to work with a prepare the best players to play against the best opponents. It's been marvellous to pit my wits against the other coaches similarly at the peak of their profession.

Fulham, Ipswich Town, England, PSV, Barcelona, Sporting & Porto, Newcastle.
Try telling fans at any of the above clubs that the English can’t coach/manage. Robson achieved minor miracles with Ipswich and qualified England for two World Cups reaching qtr and semi finals. Still our best results away from home.

But in case the reader thinks he could only cope with English football, a trip to Lisbon will swiftly correct that notion. Nick-named ‘Bobby 5-0’ by Porto fans, due to the number of 5-0 wins only leaving the club, after two league championship wins, due to Barcelona calling. Again, at Barca Robson, was highly rated and won three trophies in his only full season. Following his spell as England boss he claimed the Dutch league with PSV and even his brief emergency return to Eindhoven ended with them qualifying for the Champions League.

Sir Bobby proved himself in each type of football and across the continent of Europe, combining success with ambassadorial skills of the highest level. He even managed to restore some glory and common sense to the basket case that is Newcastle United!
Yes, this Englishman could coach a bit.

Brian Clough

clough black and white
Hartlepools, Derby County, Brighton, Leeds United, Nottingham Forest.

Enough words have been written about OBE (Ol’ big ed) to fill any other managers office. They would do well to read them.

At Derby County, Clough took a small unsuccessful provincial club and won the league title. He crashed into the European Cup and was only denied in a quarter-final now accepted as totally corrupt.
Not to be discouraged, by being cheated, and later sacked in controversial circumstances, Clough repeated the trick with another East Midlands club.

The name of Nottingham Forest appears on the top division roll of honour in England and twice in a row on the European Champions Cup. Moulding players others rejected or deemed manageable, was his Clough’s speciality.
But the idea that he did not coach or think about what was needed to win is errant nonsense. Forest’s style in winning the European Cup was entirely different to that employed in winning the English league. He, and Peter Taylor, had worked out exactly how to play against mighty sides of the time and emerged triumphant almost every time. Clough’s other gift was that he made payers believe that they could do anything and were better than anyone else. Then each were given a simple job to do. The model concentrated more on Clough’s sides assets, than the strength of the opposition.

Sadly we will never know how he would have adapted to International football. My hunch is that he would have taken to it like a duck to water. Imagine an England side with the confidence to play and the belief they were as good as anyone in the world, it would have taken an awful lot to stop them.

Terry Venables

El Tel. Leading England with style in Euro 1996

El Tel. Leading England with style in Euro 1996

Crystal Palace, QPR, Barcelona, England and Spurs

It is often forgotten that “El Tel” was the first player to represent England at every level available. Whilst going through a wide-ranging playing career Tarry Venables applied his shrewd mind to coaching from an early stage. His first opportunity in management showed his approach. Combining select signings with his own youth players who he had coached through the club. As a result he took Crystal Palace to the top division from the 3rd tier within three years. They briefly lead the division, for only time in their history, finally finishing in solid mid table. Moving to second division QPR was brave but resulted in promotion, a cup final and finally a fifth place finish and qualification for Europe. Spanish eyes were now smiling on Venables.

The history of FCB is littered with legends of football. Michels, Cruyff, Rykaard, Ronaldo, Messi and even Maradona (briefly). It should therefore be to Terry’s huge credit that Barcelona came calling for him due to his reputation for success, style and coaching ability.

Although his reign could be viewed as mixed, his successes were remarkable. His side won FCB’s first league for 11 years and reached its first European final for over twenty years. Lineker and Hughes were  successful imports and the club was propelled back onto the major stages again.

In an age dominated by Liverpool, Venables return to England put Spurs straight back into the limelight and they did not disappoint. The club is as famed for entertainment as winning and Terry lived up to both. Lineker and Gascoigne ensured goals and skill were aplenty. The highlights included an FA cup win and 3rd place in the top division.

England Calling.

Quite simply Venables coached an England side, that previously were not highly regarded, to the semi finals of a major tournament and was only defeated on penalties. He picked players others thought were risky or unsuitable. Stuck by his players through thick and thin. Venables found a way of making all his best players play together and produced entertaining attacking football of a type not produced by England since.

Venables lasting football monument is the recording of England vs Holland in Euro 96. A 4-1 win over a Dutch side, favoured to succeed, is simply a superb piece of coaching and man management. Shearer and Sherringham are superb. Gazza is off the leash and unstoppable and everyone else knows exactly what job to do and does it perfectly.

Only the English FA could dispense with his services following such a tournament.

Vic Buckingham

vic_buckingham_ajax-nl1

Before Rinus Mikels, Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola, there was Vic Buckingham. Englishmen have been quite a strong influence in the foundation and development of Barcelona with Buckingham being one of the first and finest.

Some things are best stated in simple terms, Vic Buckingham managed West Bromwich Albion, Ajax of Amsterdam, Barcelona, Sevilla & Olympiacos, all before 1976. At all of these clubs he achieved some success and instituted youth programs and philosophies of football ahead of their time. West Brom won the FA Cup and were runners-up in the League ( almost The Double for West Brom!) Ajax won the Dutch league and Barcelona won the Spanish Cup.

This chap could coach/manage! Ajax asked him back for a second spell, during which Mr Cruyff made his debut and both Johan and his mentor Rinus Mikels held Buckingham in the highest regard. Strangely he barely is acknowledged in his UK homeland and only recently has some credit begun to find its way.

Roy Hodgson

roy-hodgson-profile (1)

It has proven easy for the English press to denegrate Hodgson as a bit of a stuffed shirt. An FA yes man who has more in common with your Grandad than he does with the sexy super coaches in the style of Mourhino et al. Yet even a cursory glance at Hodgson’s CV will reveal a rounded coach of huge experience and no little success.

Hodgson’s first managment job was in Sweden, he took a side almost relegated the year before and won the league title. He repeated the feat a couple of years later. After a brief spell at financial disaster that was Bristol City, Hodgson returned to Sweden where he would eventually take charge of Malmo. Beggining in 1985 Hodgson oversaw a remarkable spell at the club. Five League Titles, two cups and decent European including the European Cup Winners Cup defeat of Inter MIlan in 1989. Roy is held in very high regard in Malmo and known to fans as Royson.

International Management

Soon Hodgson was asked to coach Switzerland, after a successful spell in club management there, whom had not qualified for a major event since 1966. Roy rectified that at the first attempt, from a tough group, then managing to reach the knock out stages of the 1994 world cup in the USA. He easily qualified the side for Euro 96 and would have been in strange position of managing against his home country in the opening game. However as soon as qualification was secured Hodgson left to take over at Inter Milan. Switzerland were at the time ranked 3 in the fifa rankings!

Inter Milan

Speaking about Hodgson’s time at Inter, club president Massimo Moratti said: “Roy Hodgson was an important person in the development of Inter Milan to the point we have reached today. He saved us at the right time. When he came we were in trouble and things appeared dark. He didn’t panic, he was calm and made us calm. Disaster was averted at the most important time. Everyone at Inter will remember him for that and his contribution. He is considered by us all as an important person in our history. He left an endowment to this club that’s important in our history.”

It is fair to say that after this followed a eclectic spell in Hodgsons career, manging in Norway, Italy, Finland and United Arab Emerites to name a few.

A surprise return to England came with Fulham, He rescued them from relegation in the first season and built what began to look like a decent outfit. A remarkable 7th place finish the next year led Fulham into the new Europa League. An astounding run led all the way to the final, with a recovery from 1-4 to defeat Juve being the highlight.

Hodgson was voted manager of the year in England by a record margin. It appeared that all the knowledge gained across the world coaching, managing and even as a director of football, was finally being translated into success in his homeland. A move to a big club was finally offered. Hodgson took over at Liverpool in time for the 2010/11 season.

Sadly, due to an unusual background story, club legend ignored in managerial appointment, and never seeming to quite have the personality for the job , the two parted in January 2011. Hodgson was swiftly taken on by West Bromwich Albion, and immediately produced superb results again, soon finishing in the top 8 and producing quality players and good football.

In a repeat of the a situation from 1983/4 ( Clough & Robson) England again recruited the safe pair of hands whilst the public clamoured for the more colourful character. This time Hodgson was the beneficiary of the FA’s conservative outlook, whilst Harry Redknapp was left to rue what might have been.

So far Hodgson has done a steady job with England, qualifications have been achieved and decent performances put in. Tournament results have been mixed. With Euro 2012 regarded as a qualified success and the 2014 World Cup as a failure.

The Euro’s of 2016 will be, perhaps the final, testing ground for this world traveller of a coach from the heart of England!

 

501 or More: Phil Taylor Generation 3, are they really worth £78?

The 3rd generation Target & Taylor Dart. Style, Substance or both?

The 3rd generation Target & Taylor Dart. Style, Substance or both?

Although not quite in the league of the recent Elysian Special Edition darts, retailing at £300, it’s still a hefty price to pay for a set of arrows. But let’s give the latest Target Taylor collaboration a real going over and see what we made of them.

First Impressions.

The external packaging is typical of target and displays the dart and the marketing image very well. Plenty of gold and silica colour. Inside the darts are protected by a foam mount, It is still a shame that target prefer not to supply premium cases with their premier darts, included are three barrels, three matching Gen 3 silica stems and three of the smallest vapour flights.

The appearance of the dart is definitely in the “Dart Art” class. From the natural point and nose cone through the gold and silica main barrel and to the silica rear section and stem, the impression is of a sleek aerodynamic missile designed to seek out its target (no pun intended).

What’s New?

Actually quite a lot in some ways. Gone are the blue highlighted flat grip sections on the rear of the dart, also the blue highlighted grip pieces on the nose cone have gone. The full pixel grip across the mid section of the barrel is no more.

Additions include the barrel being longer so the “as one ” idea of stem and barrel survives but with differing proportions. The 22g for example is 45mm instead of 41mm. Barrel width is almost identical in each weight. Add the supplied grooved stem and there is a totally smooth transition through to the flight.

Will the 3rd Generation Target Dart hit the spot for The Power?

Will the 3rd Generation Target Dart hit the spot for The Power?

Grip

The Gen 3 has a sectional grip starting from the nose cone, which is completely smooth, next comes a five-line pixel grip section highlighted gold, the third section is a seven line ring cut section more reminiscent of many Unicorn darts. It is situated well for those who hold the middle or rear of the dart. Finally comes a silica pixel grip through to smooth stem junction (and grooved stem base if you fit the supplied accessories).

Overall there is good grip on each section of the barrel and a tried and tested combination on the middle and rear sections. If you hold toward the rear it is very comfortable in combination with the stem. Changing stems does alter the feel and the hold balance. A medium length tapered stem and normal size a standard shape seems to lead to more momentum for the dart and a nicer angle of entry for the taller player.

Barrel Coating.

The combination between the gold highlighting and the silica coating is a very good touch. It seems to wear well and gives a very nice non sticky feel. For this style of barrel this may be targets best combination, of cosmetics and functionality, yet.

Points.

The standard fitted points are absolutely fine and, due to the dart requiring a steady consistent approach, storms or similar are not needed.

Flights.

The new vapour flights are remarkably small and not for an average player. The control and consistency needed is of a very high level and takes huge concentration. However they do provide a good tool for practising. After using a normal flight, for a few legs, try switching to these to see how controlled you are throwing and how long you can maintain it.

Overall.

This is a superb quality dart in term of design, build and appearance. Its advantages include the slightly longer length, narrower nose and excellent feel. Drawbacks are the high level of control needed and the likelihood of players needing to use their own set ups.

Could the Gen 3 be the best thing since Unicorn's Phase 5?

Could the Gen 3 be the best thing since Unicorn’s Phase 5?

Overall then the £78 is a very high cost for a product that may not suit many players. A good strategy would be to test throw at least one similarly designed dart such as a phase 5 rosso, or even a heavy Sigma 970, with a similar stem and flight set up added. If you get on well with the trial it may well be worth the investment. If you cannot succeed with the test, then only spend the £78 if you can’t resist the looks!

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Tactical Blunders: 6 of the Worst Sporting Decisions.

After great moments of sporting triumph, or disaster, many folks are paid to discuss the reasons behind such moments. Why did one side win? or one player has an edge on a certain day?

I say, you have a go first old boy.

I say, you have a go first old boy.

On some occasions, it really does not take an army of pundits to see the failure and the direct cause. The costly tactical blunder is as a true a part of sporting life as the sublime moment of gifted genius.

Here are six of the worst tactical or operational blunders, across a variety of sports, during my sporting life so far:

1. Eric Bristow v Keith Deller:

The final of the world darts championship of 1983 had proven a close affair, closer than many imagined, with multiple champion Bristow failing to shake off the challenge of the young pretender Deller. At 1-2 down in the final set (best of 5 legs) The Crafty Cockney fired in a superb leg leaving himself 121 after only nine darts. Still Deller had not let it go and had himself left 138. Eric had the throw hitting 71 with two darts to leave 50. Yet inexplicably he opted not to go for the bullseye to win the leg. For Eric, the great showman of darts, not to try to finish in style gives some indication of the pressure Deller had managed to create. Deller then stepped up and took out the 138 to claim the title! Whether Eric would have hit the bull or changed the dynamic of the match we and he will never know. To miss a shot to win a world title is one thing, but to gamble on letting the other man have a go first is truly shocking.

To this day Deller uses 138 as part of his autograph signature.

2. Aston Villa & Martin O’ Neil –

Just one more little player Mt Chairman sir?

Just one more little player Mr Chairman sir?

Shortly after taking over, at Aston Villa, new owner Randy Lerner drew up a plan of action with club manager Martin O’ Neil, the plan involved five years of development in order to restore the Midlands club to at least some of their former glory. Initially, all went well. Villa improved dramatically and began to threaten the champions league places in The Premier League.

However, behind the scenes disquiet was mounting, at the financial state of the club, due to the soon arriving financial fair play rules. Players were on high wages and the much-needed external income was not yet reaching its potential. The plans seemed likely to be a success however when during year four Villa seriously challenged for the final qualification place. O’ Neil however was guilty of a major blunder. In an effort to chase the Champions League spot he neglected the opportunity to win a trophy, sending a young and inexperienced side for a tough encounter in Moscow. Following the shock defeat and a very negative reaction from supporters, Villa seemed to lose momentum and again finished 6th in the league. Despite another 6th place finish the following season O’Neil new Villa needed a little more to make that final step.

Villa,  Lerner in particular, chose that moment to compound O’ Neil’s earlier tactical blunder with one of their own. Instead of backing their manager, who had improved the standing of the club, and driven Villa to two cup semi-finals and one final, over the previous 4 years, they picked that moment to doubt him. So when O’ Neil asked for £7 million to buy Scott Parker from newly relegated West Ham, Lerner refused. The results were catastrophic. O Neil resigned on the verge of the new season, feeling, deeply undermined and, that Lerner had gone back on his word. Meanwhile, Scott Parker was bought by Spurs.

The season that followed was horrendous for Villa, in a desperate bide to fend off relegation they had to spend £17 million on a striker. Over at Spurs Scott Parker enjoyed a superb season he was voted footballer of the year and they qualified for The Champions League.

The situation has worsened for Villa in almost every season since. New managers and players have failed to arrest the decline and Lerner has become more and more disillusioned with the club. He is now asking £75 million to sell. At one point Villa was valued at double that or more!

The summer of 2016 featured Aston Villa looking for their seventh manager in as many years, this time he will be managing a championship club due to Villa’s relegation. Meawhile Martin O’ Neil, following a superb debut in International managment, will be guiding the Republic of Ireland at the Euro 2016 finals.

3. Rugby: England 1990 World Cup Final

Win or Win with style? The age old debate gets no better example than this.

Win or Win with style? The age old debate gets no better example than this.

Under the coaching of Geoff Cooke, and captaincy of Will Carling, the England Rugby Union team of the late eighties and early 1990’s were a formidable outfit. They had recovered from a disappointing world cup in 1987 and rebuilt well. Reigning Grand Slam Champions and a side who had worked incredibly hard to improve their fitness after a poor result against Australia the previous summer. Union was in a transition period between the old amateur code and a new professional game.

This England outfit was moving in that professional direction and was uncompromising in its approach, tough tackling, kicking for touch and dominating the opposition from the scrum and the lineout. Even the mighty New Zealand only overcame them by a single score in the pool game. England then defeated Italy and the USA well enough to ensure 2nd place and qualification for the knock out stages. The defeat, however, meant travelling to Paris for their next round. Despite it being a home world cup.

So the game against the French looked like a rerun of a recent five nations encounter when the sheer strength, and physicality, of England, overcame gallic flair despite the French scoring three tries. The game did not start out like that and the French side had the better of a struggling England.  Then came the legendary moment when Mickey ‘the munch’ Skinner lifts the French number 8 into the air, in the tackle, and carries him back up the field before dumping him unceremoniously on the ground. Gamer changer! The French lose their discipline and the English run out 19-10 winners.

A Semifinal against Scotland was their reward, a superb performance from the passionate Scots resulted in them leading 6-0. With half an hour left Gavin Hastings, Scottish hero and skipper, missed a sitter of a penalty kick and the English machine simply steamrolled out the win again 9-6. Not pretty was the verdict of many, the English side was labelled dull, boring, attritional and much worse. But they had been superbly effective and reached a world cup final!

The English were convinced that they would not dominate the Australian pack as easily as they had done some others, they also thought that they had seen some Australian weakness in the flanks during their summer trouncing. Combined with the stick they had taken over their style, in a home world cup, they decided to play an expansive game and attempt to outplay the Australian side. The Aussie side included David Campese, Micheal Liner and other quality ball players. Despite a dominant first half from England, including huge possession that their normal tactics would have seen turned into a large lead, the Australian side adapted and England had to chase the game. The Australians had adopted a much more pragmatic approach, almost in the England mould, just as the hosts attempted the reverse and the Southern hemisphere side did the better job.

Despite this not being quite the great Aussie con job that is often suggested. The fact remains that management, captain and players all agreed to change a winning formula for a one-off final and it backfired completely. Would the more blunt and robust England have won their first world cup in 1987 instead of having to wait another 16 years?

4. Brentford Football Club 2015:

A very smart individual, stats obsessive? Seemed to miss out a key variable with Brentford FC?

A very smart individual, stats obsessive? Seemed to miss out a key variable with Brentford FC?

Another grim decision by those who should know better. Toward the end of the 2014/15 season, Brentford let it be known that their popular and successful manager, Mark Warburton, would not be offered another contract and would leave at the end of the season. The club was in position to qualify for the playoffs for a Premier League place at the time. Despite this decision seeming a little odd, most folk seemed content to let the rich owner who had bailed out the club and invested heavily, do things his own way. He had been successful in all ventures and seemed to have a plan to develop the club even further. The manager also seemed to accept the decision quietly and with little fuss.

Fast forward twelve months and the decision looks anything other than planned or progressive. Brentford missed out on the playoff places in 2015. In addition, they have dismissed their choice of replacement manager and are already debating another change. The 2015/16 season sees them struggling in mid-table and going backwards. In the meantime, Warburton has become the first Englishman to manage Glasgow Rangers FC. In his first season, he has gained promotion to the Scottish Premier League, won one trophy, their division and reached another final. In addition, he has defeated arch-rivals Celtic in his first old firm clash, despite being in a lower division with little money!

Should Warburton be, even moderately, successful in the top division those from Brentford may rue the day even more than they must be currently?

5. England Football Team 1970 World Cup: Sir Alf Ramsey

One decision in 1970, tarnished Sir Alf reputation for far too long.

One decision in 1970, tarnished Sir Alf reputation for far too long.

For a period of time, it appeared that Sir Alf Ramsey could do no wrong. As Ipswich Town manager he had overachieved with a small club, so much so that he was appointed the manager of England.

Ramsey’s tactics and team building technique had many critics early on and right up until the 1966 world cup in England he was regularly attacked for his style and manner. Yet he was proven right in some style. England won the event with superb wins of difficult sides including Argentina and Germany and Ramsey and his men were heroes throughout the land. A knighthood followed and many had to keep their powder dry.

By the time of the 1970 World Cup the confidence in the team was sky-high, could they defend the trophy and become the first European side to win the tournament outside their own continent? Despite being drawn in a group with the now legendary Brazil side England managed to qualify reasonably well. Even the game vs Brazil was tight and only decided by a single goal. Ramsey was beginning to worry about his player’s ability to deal with the heat. With some of the players nearer to the end of their careers than the start. The Brazil game illustrated this point, England had had to work very hard to stay in the game, whereas Brazil’s relaxed patient style suited the searing conditions.

The quarterfinals provided many talking points, Gordon Bank’s food poisoning proving a matter of intrigue as well as misfortune. Yet the ultimate decision fell to Ramsey. Having played superbly for the first half, England were 2-0 Sir Alf decided to rest his star players for the later games. The substitution of Bobby Charlton and Martin Peters seemed to change the game. Franz Beckenbauer’s influence grew and grew, without Charlton to dominate for England. As the Germans dominated the pressure increased and reserve goalkeeper Peter Bonetti made a number of mistakes. From 2-0 up the German side levelled at 2-2 forcing injury time. Thus the non substituted players would have to play an additional 30 minutes in the sapping conditions.

The incomparable Gerd Muller scored in the 108th minute to put an exhausted English side out of their misery and the competition.

Sir Alf’s clear blaming of Bonetti’s mistakes did not sit well with players and followers alike. Thus, having failed to qualify England for the 1974 world cup, Ramsey was dismissed with his stock far lower than his achievements deserved.

6. England Cricket: World Cup 1979

Even the brilliant are capable of great blunders.

Even the brilliant are capable of great blunders.

As if losing a world cup, through tactical errors, in both football and rugby was not enough, it could be stated that England possesses a unique hat-trick. Hosting the first three cricket world cups surely should have resulted in at least one triumph? To be fair, the one day game and world cups were in their infancy and England was not enjoying its strongest period at the time. However in 1979 they were beginning to put together a return to form. Ian Botham had established himself, Boycott & Gooch looked like a good pairing and of course, they were skippered by Mike Brearley one of the great test captains.

The resurgence was looking good when they played themselves to the final of the second world cup (some would say first genuine one) only to be faced by cricket’s new force, Clive Lloyd’s fearsome West Indies.

Despite the odds being against them England started well and made early inroads into the WI batting order. This served to bring to the crease a certain IVA Richards. ‘Master Blaster’ proceeded to illustrate why he carried that moniker. Hitting 138 runs in 157 balls, this without fielding restrictions, power plays or a friendly white ball, leading his side to an imposing total of 286 from their 60 overs.

Yet all was not lost for England, they had a good batting line up, were at home and on a decent wicket for batting. They started well using Mike Brearley, as a makeshift opener, with Geoff Boycott to ensure a solid start. Strength-in-depth, in the batting combinations, meant that hope was not yet lost. Indeed the skipper was quite optimistic.

Yet somehow, in the last minutes of the tea interval, one of the shrewdest captains cricket has ever seen, was talked out of the blatantly obvious plan of action. Derek Randall, Ian Botham (of all people) and others prevailed upon their skipper, stating that he and Boycott were doing fine and there was no need for the immediate all-out assault that was planned. Thus with a ‘steady as she goes’ policy in the place England fell more and more behind until the task became Herculean. Then, desperate for quick runs, the batsmen faced the incomparable Joel Garner. Five wickets fell in eleven balls and the contest was over.

It would never have been an easy job to chase such a total against one of the greatest sides. But the tactical blunder ensured that no pressure was ever applied and in the end, desperation was all on the home side.

The last case should illustrate that tactical blunders are not made only by fools or the incompetent. They can be made by almost anyone, even by the greats of the games or sport. Nearly always they can be easily explained or justified and had they have come off the decision maker would have been lauded as a genius. On such final margins, great sporting moments are built.

 

 

 

 

 

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