Tag Archives: Sport

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!

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Darts, The Technology Game? Part II

In the first part of , The Technology Game? we looked at the recent explosion in technology innovations and advances that have been introduced over the last decade or so. Here in Part II  we will look at Flights, Stems, Points and more. The main areas covered in Part 1 included; Premium marketing, barrel design and grip variations. All have been given a high profile in the last 5-10 years. The jury was still out on the success or necessity of these idea’s and whether they truly have added to the improvement of players at either amateur or professional level.

There are two other area in which  R & D and sales and marketing  booms have taken place:

Accessories: Flights, Stems and more.

a new breed? One of a number of interlocking flight and stem systems available.

a new breed? One of a number of interlocking flight and stem systems available.

From dart’s earliest commercial days, the variations in the additions to the barrel have been as numerous and interesting as to the barrels themselves. Flight materials changed from feather to imitation feather, then plastic, rip stop material and then thinner and thinner polymer types. The shape varied enormously over the years, with the what is now referred to a the standard shape as well as pear shapes, kite shapes and variations up the theme. In recent years designs such as fantail, V wing, tomahawk, slim, DSX and numerous others have been introduced. In the case of stems/shafts the variations have also been coming thick and fast since the 1970’s. From the initial wooden canes, lightweight plastics, steel, aluminium, titanium, one piece or separate items, side loading (Slik Stix) and now, coming full circle with, the current combination flight & stem sets, made from plastic/polymers by manufacturers such as Cosmo or L Style, offering a fixed single unit. At the same time length of stem and the correct combinations have moved back and forth quite considerably.

An L Style Flight & Stem Combo
Again the idea of premium products that will add to your game and provide a glamorous look has been deployed by the manufacturers. Whilst a basic flight stem and fixing set can still be bought for less than £1 where as a combination of the latest Target Pixel Stems & Phil Taylor Flights will cost around £15, alternatively the one piece systems offered, by various manufacturers, cost between £8 and £15 per set up.

Taylor 9Five Gen 2. Too much tech?

Taylor 9Five Gen 2. Too much tech?

All of these changes and developments have,  claimed either logical or scientific, reasons they will improve upon the existing templates. Amongth these are; faster speed through the air, more aerodynamic profiles, less weight, better balance, additional grip and a host of other claims. many have been used and endorsed by professional players and have gone on to win titles or great matches. World Championships have been won with standard flights, smaller standard flights, pear-shaped flights and others. stem length has varied a little and fixings of flight to stem have also varied. But is this through real improvement or simply great players being able to use differing equipment with which they felt comfortable at any one time?

If we again look at the top twenty players we will see how this has panned out of the last twenty years or so, again we shall also look at the next generation of players and see if changes are imminent? In terms of flight shape, the standard shape is used by almost all of the top twenty PDC players. The size and shape varies a little but are described as standard. Taylor uses a unusual very slim “lightning bolt” design. Brendon Dolan will be associated with Kite shaped as he hit his double start 9 darter with them and Barney changes often! The slight size variation is claimed to either assist in the flight, improve visibility, and reduce deflections.

The current & double world champion uses a simple no nonsense set up.

The current & double world champion uses a simple no nonsense set up.

In terms of stem set up the evidence is simple overwhelming. Phil uses some of the innovative design, metallic stems but almost every other player in the top twent uses a nylon/plastic/ carbon fibre stem, most use a stem ring of some description and a majority seem are between 35 and 44mm in length. These can be bought for less than £2 per set up even for branded items, generic versions can be bought for pennies.

Classic but still hugely popular.

Classic but still hugely popular.

When we tested these combinations and asked many top players most players agreed that weight and simplicity to change easily were the reasons they believed the simple set ups were best. For the average player or beginner cost is also a large factor.

The above is not to say that success cannot be achieved with other designs and set ups. Dolan used a simple kite flight and lengthy aluminium stem for his 9 darter, Steve Beaton has used Standards, Oversized Pear Flights and both short and longer stems, usually aluminium to huge success over a 30 year career. It does suggest that, with the odd exception, simplicity is the key here and that over design or elaboration is unnecessary.

Points

Smoothing out junction between barrel and stem as well as griping both board and finger, a true innovation?

Smoothing out junction between barrel and stem as well as griping both board and finger, a true innovation?

Although a rather vital element, of the dart, for many years points were pretty much left alone. Slight changes in colour or size seemed almost accidental. The North Americans favoured a longer point many player customised their own points. However it was pretty ad hoc and unsystematic. The last few years however have seen some dramatic changes. Grooved or diamond cut points, for either increased board grip or finger placement, have made a large impact. Knurled points with a section to rest the finger against  prove popular and more recently the “Storm” point innovation, this makes the barrel and point almost seemless. many advantages are claimed by designers and makers of these points and there seems to be merit in them. Storm points reduce damage to flight set up and may be a factor in the simplicity trend? Grip on points has seemed to reduce fall outs, (except on bad Unicorn days!) Many top players use one innovation or more. The many different combination of possible grip and point shape allow a high level of personalisation to an area previously not explored or marketed.

Two commercial bonus spring to mind, though there are more, firstly the increased roughness of many points may increase the wear and tear on boards and results in lower expectations for durability and more regular purchase, also points of various types can be easily fitted to many other darts, not brand specific, again allowing limitless experimentation with and customization of equipment. In short, point development, and technology, may be one area in which genuine improvement and innovation have been brought to modern darts.

Being certain that your fingers are accurately placed can certainly add to the repitition of your throw.

Being certain that your fingers are accurately placed can certainly add to the repitition of your throw.

Technology Game?

It is hard to fully assess the impact of technology and innovation over recent years. Firstly many of the innovations are not really new, they are re packaged or cosmetic developments based on previous items. Secondly the facts that a very small number of modifications have been accepted, by an even smaller number of the top players, at the top end of the game suggests that they do not feel anything is added to their performance. This however may be misleading as most have not grown up with the newer idea’s and may have been conditioned to be afraid of change or suspicious of tech. Yet it still appears to be the case with the best teenage players?

On the plus side, the huge volume of choice available to the average player is great for the game, conversations about new ideas , designs and equipment are always held amongst players, of all levels, and nearly everyone is willing to give things a try. The research and development undertaken by manufacturers after a slice of the market improves choice of kit and maker. Quality overall is probably improved by modern methods, and thus some of the premium accessory items can last a very long time.

However for those starting out the best advise may still be to try as many sets as you can manage to get a rough idea of the weight and style you like.  Then find a dart shop with try and buy facilities. Once you think you have found a set you like, match them up with relatively cheap flights, stems, springs etc that you can keep replacing or even varying for very little cost. Make use of buy,swap, sell web sites or Facebook groups, these can allow you to test darts and accessories without losing all your initial costs. Keep checking in with AIM for our players guide to selecting darts!

In our experience it is the player and their efforts, that make the difference, not the tech. Within the last five years a number of players over the age of 30 have come through the ranking to occupy high position or do well in TV events.

One of these used a dart that is over 25 years old. Not just the design but the actual set! A medium length nylon stem and stem ring is combined with an everyday pattern dimplex flight. This dart and set up reached the big 5 major PDC events and at times averaged well in excess of 100 whilst, both Pro Tour and in majors, 15+ consequetive legs were won against the worlds best including MVG!

The Asp. Grandad knows best?

The Asp. Grandad knows best?

In addition last years runner up in the world youth championships, Nathan Aspinall, uses darts that, either came from or, were inspired by his Grandad.

 

Darts, The Technology Game? Part 1

The Tech Explosion.
As with many sports, darts has been inundated with “technological” advances over recent years. Due to the large audience, increased exposure and huge participant numbers, manufacturers have been seeking to develop products that will tempt the ordinary player and, perhaps, give professional players that extra % that will make all the difference.
One of the great advantages of darts, as a participant sport, is its relatively inexpensive nature. A decent board, other items needed, in order to play the game can be obtained and installed for less £100 or even less than £50 with the help of Ebay or swap & sell sites.
Surges in popularity of Golf & Tennis, among others, also lead to technological leaps, both for amateurs and at the professional level. Yet in these sports the advances can be clearly demonstrated, explained and sometimes obviously visible. Sweet spots, head size, string power or spin generation, length of shot, reduction of mis-hits etc.
The biggest change in darts was the use of denser metals, such as tungsten, in order to make darts thinner at the preferred weights. Tennis and golf have had their equivalents with changes in shaft and frame material respectively. Again in such sports these changes lead to measurable increasing in power, durability, flexibility etc.
A few years ago however darts manufacturers began to introduce other changes. With these came increased costs and what could be termed premium level darts and accessories. Along with the design “innovations” came new cosmetics and terminology in order to persuade players that these items could really make a difference to them. At the highest level players were tinkering, with the help of manufacturers, almost constantly to create the impression of an evolving process, thus meaning new generations of players, or classic, darts and the creation of a market that now sees many amateur players changing darts annually or even more often! It seems that a combination of sport tech and mobile phone / football shirt fashion have entered into the game.

 Do darts Innovations Work?

There are three main area’s where advances are claimed. Barrel design, and manufacture, accessories that complete the dart, often known as the “Set Up” and more recently the third area, point design and manufacture.

The Start of The Technology Game in Modern Darts?

The Start of The Technology Game in Modern Darts?

 

The recent increase in these areas of innovation can probably be traced back to Unicorn’s, and Phil Taylor’s, development of development of the Sigma dart. Much fanfare was brought to the creation of this ( Phase 4?) dart. Could “The Power” be made even better? Rocket scientists were apparently involved, later known as UniBoffins! and “dart & accessories designed to be as one” from point to flight became a watchword.

These darts were then packaged in premium cases and sold with serial numbers and assured weights, laser etched on the barrels, and quality guaranties etc. These were short-lived in terms of Phil’s use and , due to his struggles, The Phase 5 was swiftly introduced. Yet the die was cast and the annual launch, technology heavy and premium looking package, formula now became the norm.

Slick marketing, space age tech and premium sets. The new way?

Slick marketing, space age tech and premium sets. The new way?

Hidden in this tale, however, is a possibility that manufacturers would not like to dwell on. Namely, that the advances are myths and depend totally upon the player. “The Power” could not get on with the newly created darts, something had to be done, so some old tech, the “John Lowe”barrel,  was swiftly adapted into the Phil Taylor Phase 5. Even the one piece side loading stem was very similar to those used by Lowe and others in the 1980’s. Taylor went from strength to strength, different editions of the Phase 5 were launched, colour hjgcoordinated and coated for fashion preference and the day was saved, The Phase 5 is now known as the most successful dart ever made.

Despite being based on very old tech. The Phase 5 follows the same formula and triumphs.

Despite being based on very old tech. The Phase 5 follows the same formula and triumphs.

Barrels & Grip

If barrel technology was moving the game forward at rapid speed, or had changed anything significant, the current crop of the games elite would be using different equipment, or much improved versions, than those of 10 or 20 years ago. If we allow the argument that those players had grown up with the older equipment, and struggled to change, then surely the younger generation coming through would be using newer  kit or dramatic variations of the older styles.

Yet a good look at the rankings may show us a different story. The top twenty PDC players include players whose age range is from mid fifty’s to early twenties. They are a mix of players, some who have grown up with darts early TV age and those who will have been heavily influenced by the more modern Sky/PDC game. They also differ in speed, style, rythym just as much as previous generations.

Of the current top twenty. Eleven use a  straight or tapered barrel with a cut grip. These are either simple ring cut, combination cut or a “purist style” cut. Phil is currently the only player in the top 20 using a classic Lowe/Sigma barrel and similar set up. Of the other eight players, two use knurled grip barrels, variations of these have been around for decades. Too more use very smooth barrels of slightly different types. Although Stephen Bunting is trying various new grips, his most successful darts were very light, simple and smooth. Jelle Klassen and Simon Whitlock are using an interesting looking barrels, yet upon close inspection they have much in common with other tapered nose barrelled with ring cuts placed where they like them and a scallop or similar toward the rear of the dart. Even the weight used by players is not changing greatly. Phil’s 26g is still at the high end, Bunting at the lower end with 12-17g. The vast majority seem to sit between 20 & 22g. Not much has changed here (for example John Lowe prefered 21.5g) in over over thirty years. It does seem however that lighter darts have the slight upper hand. Priestley, Hankey and Bunting have won world titles using 17g or less. The 21g or less professional group seems to be gaining momentum.

 

Ultimate Retro? Dolans history making darts. Simple, tungsten, ring grip darts.

Ultimate Retro? Dolans history making darts. Simple, tungsten, ring grip darts.

What of the younger generation of players, perhaps less set in their ways or more open to the newer styles? Micheal Smith uses a very simple ring cut barrel with soft snub nose, Dave Pallet uses Adrian Lewis  type darts made either by Unicorn or Bulls. It is a tapered nose edition with ring step cuts all the way down. Keegan Brown uses a Unicorn dart that uses simple cut sections and smooth blanks. It looks like cross between Barney, Bob Anderson and some One80 barrels.

Bully Boys darts are again simple, ring grip darts,slightly snubbed nose. No Whistles or bells.

Bully Boys darts are again simple, ring grip darts,slightly snubbed nose. No Whistles or bells.

The newer grips that are being developed, produced and marketed include nano grip, pixel grip, micro grip, diamond grip and more. None of these have yet made the grade in terms of a player coming through having adopted one of these from early in their career or changed to one and transformed their performance. Although a special mention should go to Red Dragon/Winmau here. Around 2010/11 they introduced the diamond fusion grip. Selected designs of premium darts were made with an encrusted diamond grip on sections of the barrels.

Diamond Grips for Diamond White?

Diamond Grips for Diamond White?

After trying various darts and set ups, during a “fitting session” Ian Diamond White was suggested to try the 22g edition. They were very familiar to him in shape, style weight & balance, the additional grip and security, of the diamond idea, seemed to really fit with Ian and over the next couple of years his career did indeed go to the next level. The problem is, this process had already started, Ian had qualified for the G Slam and Worlds in the previous few months and was already on a steep upward curve. It is very difficult to be sure how much the grip chance added to that. However I do believe it provided a confidence in his eqipement, and in turn his game, that helped him improve quicker and maintain his highest standard for longer periods. It is interesting that they have now introduced this into more models, in the Winmau Range, and Peter Wright’s Euro 11 dart. This is very similar to MVG’s dart. The combination of the two could be very interesting.

In some ways grip fashion is moving backwards, there is a renewed appetite for older style copper tungsten, and other mixed material, darts. This seems to be due to the fact that the metal, combined with use , sweat etc., seems to produce a natural grip not dependent on the added factors. Could this be due to added or surface grip wearing and being less consistent over time?

As can be seen the jury is still out on “technological advances” in the barrel and grip areas. Yet the development, presentation and marketing of these premium products goes from strength to strength. Makers such as Cosmo package their darts more like jewellery than sports items with Target’s recent £300 Elysian darts illustrating the extreme end of such a market.

Ultimate in Premium product marketing. Target's £300 darts!

Ultimate in Premium product marketing. Target’s £300 darts!

What about “set ups” can technology and innovation help the pro’s or the rest of us when it comes to flights, stems and other accessories?

Point, Barrel, Stem & Flight all as one. Fact or fiction?

Point, Barrel, Stem & Flight all as one. Fact or fiction?

The answer here may be even clearer……..

See Part II

 

 

Darts – A Constructors Championship?

Could RD cause a shock or two in a constructors championship?

Could RD cause a shock or two in a constructors championship?

Three years ago the idea of a type of constructors championship, for darts, was floated among the darting forum and social media world. It is fair to say it was not very well received.

(http://www.tsod.tv/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=10534&p=303584&hilit=constructors+championship#p303584)

It always struck me that the idea had some merit. Reward always motivates companies, as well as people, and the thought of being able to claim to be the best manufacturer might prove tempting.

It was, therefor, with some glee that I came across the framework for, the soft tip darts organisation, Dartslive. “The World” event that they run includes a section for constructors, with registered players being asked to provide not just their generic dart sponsor but their supplier of ; Barrel, Flight, Stem and even tip/point!

Obviously as most of the fast expanding darts activity happens outside of the UK and Europe it is other manufacturers who have taken up the baton in terms of development. L Style, Cosmo, Monster and others currently lead the way. The PDC, BDO & WDF could all be missing a trick here. Surely Unicorn, Target, Winmau & Red Dragon would develop their player sponsorship and product development strategy if their reputation was at stake each year, with the new players snapping at their heals it would be a very interesting first few years.

A new breed?

A new breed?

A few years ago  this may have seemed a limited excercise. Due to the dominance of “The Power” Unicorn would have dominated to a very large extent. RVB,Lewis and Wade ensured that the majors and most other events went to “The Big Name in Darts”. Yet even then there were signs that different approaches were happening and different constructors were making waves.

Red Dragon had opted for a niche marketing idea, signing many up and coming or popular players. Target was developing interesting designs and the dart art type of styling, while quietly planning on gaining some major names. Cosmo had just launched the Fit Flight system and Masterdarts/XQ had a strong stable of European players to lead their brand.

Unicorn Logo

A glance at the situation now reveals a different story. Unicorn managed to retain a good position through signing Gary Anderson and retaining RVB. Target have built an exceptional stable including “The Power”, “Jackpot”, “Chizzy” & “The Bullit” whilst also driving sales through excellent cosmetic appeal and innovation.

Target Dart Logo

The previously mentioned L Style, Cosmo and Monster are beginning to make waves by either, supplying accessories to noted players or complete set ups to a select group of established players or those with potential. Pipe, Part & Mansell to give a few examples. Players who are becoming true global professionals are also backed by this group of manufacturers. Larry Butler is perhaps the best current example, his global travelling a success in all formats mean he provides remarkable value for money!

Cosmo Logo

In the coming season I shall operate a manufacturers league table. Keeping it simple, early on, it will include the full PDC Pro Tour and major events. From the Qtr Finals onward points will be awarded to the dart manufacturer and accessory companies where possible. To begin with we shall simply award points based on £’s for the dart manufacturers and half of the £’s won for the accessories manufacturer. Only ranking events will be used and each event will only count upon its completion.

How will the biggest names fair? Who is developing the most talent? and what combination seem to give an advantage. Hopefully the table will give us a few thoughts through the season.

 

 

Martin O’Neil – Often Underestimated, Rarely Defeated.

The Doctor, as Brian Clough christened, Martin O Neil.

The Doctor, as Brian Clough christened, Martin O Neil.

Unusually, in football, Martin O Neil gives off the impression of intelligence that is not restricted to his chosen sport. Having stalled a law degree, to attempt to make the grade at Nottingham Forest, he was christened Dr.,by Brian Clough, due to this intelligence popping up at times that the maestro found irritating.
An immense playing career followed the arrival of Clough at Forest, The League Title, European Cups and more silverware were followed by International caps, then the captaincy and successful World Cup campaigns with Northern Ireland. Yet throughout this time MON never seemed to get the credit he deserved. It was no fluke that he was selected, bought or retained, by great managers, in successful sides. A strong will, good touch and keen reading of the game made him highly valued within sides that often had players with higher profiles or reputations.

O Neil was hugely succesfull as an international player.

O Neil was hugely succesfull as an international player.

Due to his understated success no obvious managerial role was presented to him when he called time on that playing career, and so another day job, until non league management gave him an avenue to apply the skills, and experience, learned from the very best, in combination with his own thoughts and ideas on coaching and club management.

MON’s management career has been an almost continuous run of success with lower league, low resources and often lesser talents. Along the way there he been a couple of unusual decisions, on points of principle, and another couple of non descript spells. Just as it appeared that this superb career was fading and might be forever catagorised as “what might have been…..” A move to another team of lesser obvious talent and resources presented itself. Those who thought O’ Niel was a busted flush, or thought he was simply Mr Movtivator who had been found lacking, should have looked more carefully at his whole career, influences and character.

The Republic of Ireland are relatively new to the higher echelons of International football. The 1980’s and 90’s had seen the phenomenal success of Jack Charlton. Reaching the later stages of two World Cups with a mix of Irish talent, plying their trade mainly in England, and Irish qualified players whom could not make their “home” national team. That success was built on method, team sprit, hard graft and commitment, big Jack actually new how to win a World Cup! Since that time however, despite brief resurgences under Mick McCarthy and Giovanni Trapatonni, times had been tough. The talent pool appeared to be dwindling,the better players ageing and the opposition getting stronger. Yet, of course, the country wanted continued success despite these factors. Thus the clarion call went out and, courtesy of the financial backing of a wealthy Irish businessman, Martin would be given the responsibility of solving this conundrum . It did not take a genius to see that this was a perfect stage for O Neil’s talents.

Masterful decision. Keane could not have been an easy appointment.

Masterful decision. Keane could not have been an easy appointment.

His first decision upon being offered a hero was to build a management team fit for the job. Like his mentor MON functions well, and succeeds with players, when the senior partner in  double or small team. His regular counterpoint John Robertson, he of the golden left foot, was happy in semi retirement and so O’Neil borrowed from a Jose Mourinho tactic and found a “home team” assistant. Never frightened of controversy, or backing his own judgment, He persuaded the Irish Football Association and their paymasters to recruit Roy Keane. Due to Keane acrimonious falling out with the authorities while a player, and the many comments made by both sides since, this was a big achievement in itself!

Although it is an oversimplification, it is possible to now combine a few elements of MON’s football career and see them applied to his biggest challenge:

Influence of Ol Big Ed.

Although no clone of the master, it is clear that O’ Neil absorbed a huge amount, both consciously and on a sub conscious level. The assembling of a small team around him, with a complimentary right hand man, sore both Clough and O Neil at their peak. Other influences include giving players simple jobs, investing total belief in his view that they can do them brilliantly and being slightly removed from the day to day matters.

Meastro & Inspiration. Brian Clough.

Meastro & Inspiration. Brian Clough.

In the stop start world of international football this ensures players and staff are happy and relaxed, now what is expected of them and are on their toes at all times.

Siege Mentality

Although this was another of Clough’s skills, Martin may even out rank Brian in this area. Since his very earliest management job, with Grantham Town, he has consistently bonded a group of players, staff and supporters into believing, that although the odds were against them, they could achieve more and bloody the noses of the more fortunate along the way. This brings out the best in all groups and the he “We’ll show em” style suits Martin as well.

MON Celtic

Whilst in club management this was best demonstrated at Leicester City with three cup finals, winning two, and consistent top eight finishes in the top division. The extreme tribal nature of Scottish, and Glasgow, football mean that, despite being a huge club, siege style mentality could be applied at Celtic especially early in the job.

Thus the draw for his first qualification tournament was right up O’Neil’s Street. The, newly crowned, World Champions Germany, highly ranked and rated Poland, a fierce local rivalry with Scotland, a tough traveling assignment to Georgia and newcomers Gibraltar must have added up to a mouthwatering prospect.

After a nice opening run in friendly games, suffering only one defeat, the real business of qualification got under way with some solid display and steady results, a late goal away in Georgia would prove vital at the end of the campaign. Despite a few negative grumbles, after a draw and narrow loss to Scotland, O’Niel seemed to have settled on a method and was growing into the role. A superb ending to the campaign saw the Irish defeating world champions Germany and coming within a whisker of automatic qualification in a narrow loss to Poland. However the momentum seemed to have turned and be with the men in green. A tough play off draw against Bosnia was followed by a superbly earned draw in the away leg, despite a hostile atmosphere and a squad without several key members.

Ever one to pull a surprise, from the hat, O Neil went on the attack, in the home leg, and unsettled the Bosnian side. The selection of Brady at left back proved a masterstroke providing attacking menace and ammunition for ROI hero John Walters.

Walters could be said to have typified O Neil’s approach to the campaign. A huge amount of togetherness and team spirit, a never say die approach and not a little talent had been blended with O Neil’s knowledge of European football and getting the best for the underdog. O’ Neil thus qualified his side for a major championship at the first attempt and will a talent pool generally accepted as worse than many of his predecessors.

The thoughts of those at the FA, who turned down O Neil for the England job a few years ago, would be good to hear and may be even more sought after when the championships are actually played! I suspect I will be in very good company when watching how MON and his team perform in the tournament itself. However I would not be foolish enough to underestimate him.

 

Grand Slam of Darts 2015 – Part III – The Last 16

The Singha Beer Grand Slam 2015 is looking good so far!

The Singha Beer Grand Slam 2015 is looking good so far!

So, with the preliminaries and mini drams are over its time for the survivors to battle it out over a longer stretch.
This years group stages have been full of emotional value, a few controversial elements and a very high standard of darts. The sheer number of players, from both codes, averaging over 100 during the group stages gives an indication but the the number of players winning games with lower average scores also tells a tale of matchplay skills being as important, if not more so, as averages!
In Part II, we cut through the hype and suggested the likely last 16 and the likely scores between the codes, not always the obvious choices either, despite many close calls, we did pretty well.
Qualifiers: Not a bad effort here, out of the 16 to make it through we identified 12. Three more could still have qualified on their last game. Steve Beaton & Larry Butler also confirmed the suggestions that they would cause drama and defy expectation in their groups!

PDC vs BDO

BDO Reps showed they can play but mainly fell short.

BDO Reps showed they can play but mainly fell short.

The BDO repesentatives had a very mixed time. Adams demonstrated what we have always known, that he can play! The rest, had very good moments, provided some great stories and drama, but could not quite live with the consistent level of those who play PDC on a professional basis. This being the first time that they have been split evenly across the groups with none of their fellow code members or other invitees to play with.

The PDC then come out of the group stage 15-1 up. The only elite level player in the 8 BDO representatives comes through comfortably and could well have made a Premier League case for 1 or more BDO members.

A special mention for, PDC qualifier, Johnny Clayton, who made a superb debut in beating Terry Jenkins and acquitted himself very well overall. It has been a while since a PDC wildcard qualifier made a dent at the GSoD but Clayton gave it a great shot, hopefully he will use it as inspiration to go further.

The BDO have provided the better stories and drama so far, Andy Fordham qualifying, and then overcoming enormous emotion to win a game, and compete in his others, will live long in the memory of anyone with a sporting soul! Gert De Vos hitting a 115 average, after being distinctly average in his early games, was a great reminder that huge talent exists in darts whatever code, age or nationality you look at.

Then, of course there is Wolfie. He seems very relaxed and non- fussed about the whole affair, the huge advantage of no ranking pressure? However the skills he honed as ambassador for BDO darts and England are being used to the max as he goes along charming folk all the way.

Do not underestimate the cunning of the Wolf! He has prepared well and is very determined!

BDO certainly provided great stories, drama and added interest.

BDO certainly provided great stories, drama and added interest.

So far then it would be fair to say that both organisations have performed  well this week and done themselves no harm at all. 

Best of 19 – A Sterner Test.

With the large averages, seen so far, it would appear that many players are in superb form. This may be a bit misleading. With PDC rankings now at stake it was clear that many players hit the gas earlier than previously in this event, they looked ready to go from the off and produced superb bursts of play. That will be more difficult for many of them to sustain over the coming rounds with longer matches in store. A look at the challenges in store should give us more insight.

Thornton v Green

The Thorn is in fine fettle, after victory in the World Grand Prix he could kick on again here and be a threat for the title. Kong has done well to recapture some form in the last couple of months, after injury, but will do well to last the pace.

(Thornton to win by 3 or more legs.)

Taylor v Jenkins

PhilTaylor Bullet dart pic

Terry has played himself back into the top ten with some solid stuff. Despite a few wobbles in the group, he seems to always do that at ‘the Slam. Taylor however is majorly motivated, or determined to create that impression. The Fordham stuff is over and it will be simply a matter of finding his long game. The extra games have given The Power more time to work out some of the recent niggles and this match should give him opportunity to kick on another level.

(Taylor to win by 3 or more legs)

Anderson v Webster

These two have had a few interesting moments at the GSoD but i think this one will be more predictable. Anderson simply needs to get off to the quicker start to put any doubts to bed here. Webby is getting back which is superb to see but this may be a bridge to far, too soon.

(Anderson to win by 3 or more legs)

Wade v RVB

Both did exactly what was required of them in the group stages. Barney flattered to deceive against Anderson but did the job in the other games, Wade controlled his group very well and eased through. This is a bit of a 50/50. Barney needs run here to assist his overall rankings and the pressure may tip the balance to Wade.

(Wade to win in a thriller)

MVG v Beaton

Will The Adonis put the cat amongst the pigeons again?

Will The Adonis put the cat amongst the pigeons again?

On a personal level Steve qualifying was one of the stories of the Grand Slam, he looks very focused and determined. His group was the toughest overall and he played it perfectly. He will again be a huge underdog but don’t forget his incredible win over Taylor here a few years back.

The Adonis has enough talent to beat anyone on a given day. MVG however has moved into the mode of Bristow & Talyor. Not happy with winning, in imperious fashion, he is starting to add the bullying mentality to his overall persona. It is an interesting development given his rivalry with Anderson who plays the opposite role, jovial and carefree, and sets up a long term rivalry very well.

Steve must start well and not let the Green Machine get away. If he does we could be in for a classic. However I suspect that MVG will not allow him in.

(MVG to win)

Adams vs Huybrechts

Beware "The Wolfie"

Beware “The Wolfie”

This one is very interesting. Lets be honest, although has has played exceptionally well Wolfie has been incredibly lucky in his opponents and has again in the last 16. He has played players with very strong BDO links who have history with or against him and who have been burdened with extra ranking pressures whereas he is free to just play. Again here he has drawn a recent BDO convert who he will be familiar with and feel he has nothing to fear from. Kim is still playing pretty well but will have to be consistent,  keep the rubbish out of his head, and play the darts Adams produces on the day, not the past or the hype. One slight bonus for Kim is that Jelle Klassen, who was in Adams group, is part of the same playing stable , thus discussions or tactical advise may have taken place. To Kim’s advantage is the legs format. If he can get a run under his belt, Adams cannot use a swift surge to peg him back.

(Adams to win 10-8)

Smith v Chizzy

Dave Chisnall

Usual, blow for blow, game here. The two St Helens men will simply try to blast each other off the stage. The rhythm of the game will be superb and may lead to more 9 dart chances. Funnily enough these two have not met on TV before. Chizzy has the better record in head to heads and has done better on TV overall.

(Chizzy to win by 3 legs or more)

Snakebite vs Jackpot

adrian lewis

The game should be much like the Chizzy – Smith match, quick fire, no messing about and some superb spells of darts. Wright seems slightly off the boil, to me at the moment, so Jackpot should take advantage, of this now being a ranking event, and go on a good run.

N.B. Jackpot may well be building for something a bit special at the Worlds, just an inkling!

Adrian to win by 3 legs or more.

The escape from the group stage may lead to a drop in intensity for this round and thus I have gone for most games being relatively comfortable for the winner. The clash between Adams and Huybrechts is the one which could ignite the round. If Kim falls for the Wolfie factor, as did Ian White, he could be swept up but if he just plays his own game the way he has been Adams will be under severe pressure in a longer format and may struggle. The rest of the event could then become a parade of the usual suspects with the main question being whether Taylor can get back and reassert himself over Anderson & MVG. Either way a promising event is at hand after a great start.

Two Shots for Double Dekker?

PDC Dart player Jan Dekker, exploits ranking system to perfection as UK players disadvantaged.

Double Dekker. Former BDO World Semi Finalist Jan Dekker

Double Dekker. Former BDO World Semi Finalist Jan Dekker

Jan Dekker is a Dutch dart player of considerable talent. He has reached the later stages of the BDO ( British Darts Organisation) Lakeside World Championship on more than one occasion and has shown a strong big game temperament. He has always appeared an intelligent and well-informed person and player. He resisted the calls to run to the full-time professional circuit, after his early success, and returned to finish his education. Over the last couple of years he has again returned to the fore and this year made the decision to play within the PDC (Professional Darts Corporation) system.

The PDC system involves a qualifying school, to gain one of 128 tour cards in order to be assured of playing on the Pro Tour events and then a number of tours, of differing levels, to qualify for various major & TV events over the year. Tour cards last for up yo two years but are given annually to those in the top 64 without the need for Q School attendance. Those who fail to get a tour card are ranked on their performance. They can still play some tours and are reserve players for the main Pro Tour events and as such may be able to play almost the entire Pro Tour whilst still being eligible for the lower tier tours as well.

To enable wider international participation, some events/tours have qualifiers in, or near to, their continental locations as well as a UK qualifying event. Therefore International players can choose either method of qualification.

The basic aim of the system is to provide qualification and ranking systems and well as allow new players to make an attempt to get into the elite Tour Card holding echelons of PDC Professional darts and to earn some of the £7 million plus prize fund available. As can be imagined this is incredibly competitive and, as in any sport, requires not only talent but financial backing / earnings, patience and determination.

Having met Jan on a number of occasions during the past few years I was interested to see how his move to the PDC would pan out and thus have kept an eye out for his result, I watched some of his games and assessed his progress as the 2015 season has progressed. As a dart consultant /coach and fan I was also in a position to compare this to the efforts of other, mainly UK, players who were in a similar position at the seasons beginning. Q School in Wigan January 2015.

As well as noting Jan’s relative success, many thought he would not thrive, it became impossible not to notice several flaws in the professional system, Jan was benefiting from, not available to other players.

This was again highlighted when I also looked out for a player that I had admired, for a number of years, and was well thought of elsewhere. Eddie Dootson is an experienced but little known player from the UK. It became impossible not to see how badly the odds were stacked against him.

Now that the floor / qualification season is over these anomalies can be shown in their true light.

No blame or allegation of the players mentioned or their teams is intended or implied. Both are simply attempting to gain the best start to their PDC career within the rules in place.

Q School

Dekker had a moderately successful Q school, although he did not gain one of the Pro Tour cards available, he finished high enough up the ranking table to ensure he would be able to compete in the vast majority of Pro Tour events should he wish to do so. By entering and playing the event he also became entitled to play the second level PDC tour known as The Challenge Tour. In addition to this he would be eligible to play in the qualifiers events for six The UK Open and nine European Tour events. The later of these he could do either via the UK qualifiers, which were open to all associate members, or the European/Home Nation Qualifier for each event. This becomes the first example of Two Shots for Dekker. For the 2015 season he can aim to get a tour card either by reaching the top 64 overall or by winning the challenge tour. At the same time his financial opportunities increase over new tour card holders who cannot compete in the Challenge Tour.

Eddie Dootson had a similar overall Q School experience, although he finished higher up the ranking table and was thus assured of gaining access to every event.

Eddie Dootson Reaches L16 of UK Open 2015

Eddie Dootson Reaches Last 16 of UK Open 2015

UK Open.

With this security net, of his two shots at every aim, Jan Dekker is able to relax and play in the qualifiers for these events. As these events are not seeded and he is a highly experienced international player, this should provide a happy hunting ground. A very average performance by his own standard means he qualifies but only in the lower group. Here however his talent for big game match play comes storming through. Jan reaches the last 16 of his debut PDC major and adds £5000 to his bank account but more importantly to his overall ranking position.

Eddie starts superbly and reaches a semi final and finished in the top group in qualifying finishing in 22nd place. He then goes on to reach the last 16 of his debut major. Superb performance to add £5000 to his qualification winnings.

The Challenge Tour

Dekker has previous experience of the challenge tour so a quiet start, picking up a few hundred pounds on the first weekend, does not put a dent in the proceedings. By weekend two however Jan is in a much better place, this sees him win one event and reaches Semi and Qtr finals over the weekends four competitions. The consistent playing of events on most weekends and constant opportunities for him to improve and adapt are beginning to pay off. Over the next two Challenge Tour weekends things have changed on the Pro Tour and a confident Dekker wins two more events and picks up money / ranking points in three more. He even misses event twelve completely. In total he has picked up almost £7,500 in cash and by winning the order of merit has earned himself a tour card for 2016/17. No Q School for Mr Dekker next year. Achieving this by September removes a lot of pressure.

Eddie does not shine on the challenge tour. having not previous tour experience and having to play at the highest level in other events, it is not surprising that something gives and the Challenge Tour is not a priority.

Pro Tour

His Q school ranking ensures Jan has played in almost every Pro Tour Floor event this year. As for all newer players it has proved a tough baptism. However his talent has come through in stages and he has regularly won through to claim between £250 & £750, with one last 16 appearance earning him £1500. His total from his 19 appearances at Players Championship & UK Open qualifiers was £4750. Whilst respectable for a first season it hardly sets the world on fire with the last 16 being his best performance. Here again though, double shot, Dekker has benefited from the slanted rules. Josh Payne for example has earned over £8,000 from the same 20 Pro Tour events but is struggling to qualify for the World Championships. Dekker will have no such problems even with an overall Pro Tour finish of 73rd place.

Eddie Dootson has an excellent Pro Tour first year. As suspected he is eligible for all events and in the 20 players champs and 6 UK Open Qualifiers he reaches a Semi Final and steadily accumulates ranking money with L64 and L32 places. His earnings, of £5,250 are again higher than Jan’s.

European Tour

Since 2012 The European Tour has altered the balance of the PDC Rankings

Since 2012 The European Tour has altered the balance of the PDC Rankings

These nine events ( there will be ten in 2016) have transformed the PDC rankings. They are superb opportunities for up and coming players who get to them. They are held on stage and give great experience, as well as being the best rewarded stand alone element of the Pro Tour. Each event accepts the top 16 seeds from the appropriate order of merit and then has qualifying places open to players at the UK , European & Host nation qualifiers. Qualifiers receive £1000 for the first round and thus can easily cover expenses and concentrate on getting through a round or two to swell their ranking coffers. Often with at least one game against an opponent not from the top 16. Despite playing in the, relatively, easier qualifying events Jan has only qualified for two of these events. However they have made all the difference. Both events came at the right time in terms of financial / ranking boosts and without them life may well have been much tougher!

The £2500 gained here has meant that Jan is sitting in second spot for the European qualifying places for the World Championships. Despite being 73rd in the Pro Tour Order of Merit he will line up at Ally Pally in December. With his record, on TV, and experience meaning he is an opponent that very few would wish for.

Eddie had to enter the much more difficult UK qualifiers for all these events but still managed to qualify for 2 events and gain an additional £2,000. Despite these efforts he will not qualify for the World Championships via the Pro Tour and unless he can gain a place at the qualifying event his PDC season is complete.

Overall Rankings & Earnings.

As noted earlier the top 64 in the overall rankings gain automatic tour cards for a minimum of one year. To avoid Q School in 2016 a reasonable guess would have been for a player to gain in the region of £17,000 in ranking prize money over the season including the World Professional Championships. It is safe to say that were Dekker a UK player he would have had a solid first season and be planning Q School and then a decision on whether to keep his ranking money for 2016/17 or start again from zero. Due to the above double opportunities though he has one further card to play. The prize money from the World Championships will put Jan into the top 64. If he starts in Rd 1 it will put him into the top 55 and any wins will see him rocket up the table. Thus again the double elimination loophole is working overtime for Jan here. He has gained entry to European Tours via an event not open to all. The funds generated from this have earned him a place at Ally Pally, that is also not open to all, and the accumulation of funds will mean he is rewarded with a place in the elite top 64.

As well as the top 64 place is it safe to say that Jan’s first season has hardly been one of financial struggle against the odds. By early January 2016 he will have been in the PDC system for 12 months. He will have claimed prize money  £30,000+. This is basically for failing to win a tour card and finishing outside the top 70 on the Pro Tour. He will start 2016 with nothing to defend and with every chance of moving further up the rankings, even with another steady year.

Meanwhile Eddie Dootson, despite having matched or bettered Dekker in every ranking arena, will have earned a little over £12,000. He will decide on whether to return to Q School and, if he achieves a tour card, whether to start again or gamble on a lesser amount in the ranking bank.

Whilst acknowledging that it is important for darts to attract players and financial interest from other nations, surely it is time to remove some of the more glaring unfairness from a system that works against highly talented players who, cannot work the system financially or, are simply born in the nation that drives the darts boom!

Barry Hearn

Put simply, it is time for Barry Hearn & Matt Porter at the PDC and Peter Manley & Alan Warriner-Little at the PDPA to stop tweaking the rules, and ranking system, and overhaul it to take account of the changes that their superb success, in creating the modern game, has created. It is clearly time for as level a playing field as possible.

Premier League Fan Rip Off ? Think Again.

Premier-League-LogoDuring a recent lively social media exchange, with a friend, the claim was made that, in 1968, it was possible to see the league champions for a small sum of what previous generations called “old money”.
This claim was used as a stick with which to berate the devil that is modern football, specifically The Premier League. Being a glass is half full type of guy, while suspecting that my friend suffers from “jumpers for goalposts” syndrome, I thought that this was worth a little investigation.
So is the Premier League the devil? Have things changed that much? If so, is it peculiar to The Premier League or football in general. A look at the price of the lowest & highest season ticket prices at a successful club over that period together with a general look at peoples wages should give us an idea.
In the fabled year of my friends recollection, 1968, the average wage, as claimed by the Financial Times, was around £1500 per year. The cost of the lowest season ticket at our anonymous club was £9.50 and the most expensive was £13.50. For the average wage one hundred and eleven of the more expensive or a hundred and fifty eight of the cheapest tickets could be bought.
Fast forward a decade to 1978, average wages had increased to £5,500 per year and season tickets had risen to thirty and thirty six pounds respectively. Thus a bumper time, in terms of average salary quadrupling, saw ticket prices  basically trebled in the same period. You could now buy one hundred and eighty of the lowest price seasons tickets. The dramatic increase in average wages slowed little over the next decade, £15,000 was now the reported figure not quite treble the 1968 figure. Again ticket prices increased heavily, this time the lower price had more than trebled to £100 but the highest priced tickets had increased had not quite reached the £138 price, that would have meant a three fold increase, weighing on at £114.

The forth decade, following the our 1968 starting point, 1988-98 sees wages rise to £25,000 whilst tickets are now £247 or £361. Here the reverse of the previous decade happens the highest price ticket has more than trebled, whilst the lower end ticket at £247 has not quite made two and a half times its previous cost. Only 101 of the lower priced ticket and 59 of the higher option could be purchased with the average salary. The 1988-98 decade can be seen as a 40-60% split between the old football league and the new Premier League. At the starting point of the premier league in 1992 both tickets both tickets had risen to £190. A very large percentage of the increase in the lower priced ticket and a much smaller one in the case of the higher priced version. This reverses over the Premier league period where the higher price ticket rises sharply and the lower one very slowly indeed. In 1992 at the start of the Premier League matters had slipped to 105 tickets being afforded in exchange for the average annual wage.

From 1998 – 2008 the entire period was within Premier League and Sky TV influence and tickets increased to £475 & £798. Wages were now stated at £37,000. By now only 78 of the cheaper price tickets or 46 of the higher price ones could be purchased for this annual wage estimate.

The final period up to the present day is only 7 years long and should be treated accordingly. Wages are stated at £45,000 and prices are now £532 & £950. This represents something of a reverse with 85 and 47 tickets available for the national average annual wage. An increase for the first time since the 68-78 decade.

It appears then that my friends rose tinted view of the past, and black view of the Premier League monster, although having merit in places is somewhat simplistic. The best period in terms of value for money would appear to be  1975-85. Fans had seen a large increase in the average wage vs ticket price equation and the difference between highest and lowest ticket price was not yet the huge margin it was to become.

The worst period for fan value overall was the four years before the founding of the premier league. The wage verses ticket ratio fell by a third in that short time. During the initial period of the premier league this was slowed to almost nothing for the lower price ticket. Since that time the equation is pretty simple wages are rising by approx. £10,000 each decade, low price tickets have stabled to a £16 per year increase. High price tickets remain disproportionate in as much as they are nearly double the cheapest ticket cost. However they are rising slower in terms of percentages over 10 year periods than at any time since the late 60’s.

The best way to sum up this, rather unscientific, study, would be to say that the average football fan has been subject to ever rising costs for at least 50 years.  The costs have risen less in tougher times and sometimes fall slightly. The real change, from those times referred to by my friend, is purely in who benefits. During the 50’s and 60’s players were subject to maximum wage rules and very restrictive contracts. In effect they were owned by their club. Chairmen and other owners were the direct beneficiary of the fans money with very little going to those who actually played, managed or were otherwise actually involved in playing the game!

This is the area that has changed with player now receiving a far higher % of the money that their skills and effort bring into the game. In addition there freedom of movement and control of their image rights, and other income sources, demonstrates the reversal of previous situation.

The Premier League then is no more the devil than were previous organisations or the owners, directors and chairmen of old. Brian Clough once stated that there “were a lot of villians in football, 92 League chairmen for a start”, It would appear, as always, he was correct.

clough green sweater

 

In praise of Gerrard : A Titan amongst Pygmies!

Steve G YNWAThe statement of his intention to leave Liverpool at the end of the season sums up Steven Gerard in many ways. His influence and value to the history laden club is less easy to understate.

Now into his 17th year of 1st team action it is impossible to separate the captain from the 21st century chapter in Liverpool FC history. Gerrard’s debut came in 1998 and within two years he was a mainstay of the 1st team, taking over the captaincy from Sammi Hypia in 2003. The new millenium has been dominated by the Manchester Clubs, Arsenal and Chelsea with Liverpool being forced into a a secondary role and often struggling for the top few league places. Yet they have still added 7 major trophies to the greatest list in British football. The FA Cup has been captured twice, The League Cup three times together with one UEFA Cup and the 2004/5 Champions League. It is no coincidence that Gerrard remains the only player to have scored in finals of all available cup competitions, League, FA, UEFA cups and The Champions League.

The debate about greatest players ever often rages, whether within a club, a nation, a continent and even globally. Yet nearly always the candidates have huge success with the clubs and or nations and are as such part of great teams. Gerrard is a glaring exception to this. The Liverpool teams that he has been part of have moved between the poor or mediocre up to decent sides at best. Compare the AC Milan side of the 2005 final to a Liverpool team that contained Dudek, Finnan, Jimmi Traore and Harry Kewell. As usual Gerrard had only 2 world class support players, Jamie Carragher and Xabi Alonso on this occasion. Milan fielded Maldini, Nesto, Stam, Pirlo, Cafu, Kaka, Seedorf and Shevchenko.

Stevie G Champions league

The 2001 UEFA Cup winning side could be looked at as even worse, however it did give Gerrard genuine world class support both up front in the form of Owen and Fowler and behind with the ever present Carragher. This treble winning outfit also finished runners up  to Man United that season. United featured Stam, Neville, Keane, Scholes, Cole, York, Giggs, Beckham and Sherringham as well as Butt, Solskjaer, Berg and Irwin.

The 2013/14 squads of Liverpool compared with Man City or Chelsea is almost laughable. It is nothing short of a miracle that they managed to get that close and shows what can happen when Gerrard has a smattering of genuine world class around him. Luiz Suarez, Gerrard, Sterling and Sturridge gave Liverpool every shot at the title. This time however the immense Jamie Carragher was not present and thus the side were short of any real class in defence. No other side would have gotten anywhere near the title whilst shipping goals at the rate LFC managed. The galvanising effect and remarkable leadership of Gerrard together with the unreal Suarez dragged them toward the impossible. It should be remembered that Suarez was missing for the first section of season and still LFC competed with the top sides.

The games since the announcement of his departure have provided more evidence of the immense influence Gerrard retains. AFC Wimbledon were prevented from a famous result by the sheer force of the Skipper’s will. The first leg of the league cup semi final vs Chelsea may hint at the return of Liverpool to last years form, all be it without Suarez, but again Gerrard inspired and galvanised the side after they slipped behind. They remain just one titanic performance away from another Wembley final for the departing hero.

There remains the possibility of cameo returns from his MLS duties and then a return to the fold in another role. Surely the only way is for LFC do do the same for Gerrard as Manchester City did for Patrick Viera. A roving role within the club for a period in order for him to find where he can be of most value to the club and those who will always cherish what he gave them.

The new fan banner from last nights Chelsea semi final may sum it up. The best there is, The best there was & The best there ever will be?

 

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