Tag Archives: #2016

The Poppy World Cup Qualifier: England v Scotland

England faces Scotland at Wembley in a World Cup football qualifier on Armistice Day November 11th 2016. Both teams wish to wear the poppy symbol as an act of remembrance, but face the wrath of FIFA sanctions if they do. The World governing body of football stipulates that no international team may wear any sign of political, religious or commercial affiliation, which they deem inappropriate. Alas, FIFA have once again in my opinion, shown how totally out of touch they really are with the game at ground level. Perhaps if they got out of their ivory towers, seen things as they really are in the sport and learned a little history they would get on a lot better.

I am totally in favour of both teams wearing the poppy symbol, especially with the game falling on the actual date when the guns of WW1 fell silent. It is particularly poignant when you consider the hostility between England and Scotland goes back centuries, when men fought on battlefields in the name of an English King, a Clan leader or a Young Pretender to the throne. Two nations shaped by their shared history through war, intertwined by a strange mix of inherent animosity and togetherness. What better way to honour the fallen of battle from both nations than by wearing the communal symbol of remembrance.

I’m aware that some people are of the opinion the poppy has become a political symbol which advocates support for interventions around the world. I don’t share that view, because if you think about it, war in general has been perpetuated throughout the ages by political manoeuvrings. Therefore you could say that ANY war or conflict is politically motivated and unjustified, not just the battles you disagree with. To me wearing a poppy shows a small sign of solidarity with all those who gave their lives in conflict situations, believing “ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and die”.

The poppy became a symbol of remembrance in the UK shortly after the end of World War One, representing the poppy fields of Europe and the bloodshed spilt by the flowers of a whole generation. On the first Christmas Day of the war in 1914, a number of football matches broke out in several places along No Man’s Land in France. Warily laying down their weapons, soldiers from both warring factions came together to share small gifts and play improvised games of football. Peace on that 1914 Christmas morning was briefly restored, as the British and Germans celebrated a shared Christian faith and spoke the universal language of sport, and football was the most fluently spoken language between the two sides. Football gave the men a shared understanding, a reminder of their humanity and a brief sense of peace and camaraderie.    Hostilities resumed the day after and continued for four long hard years, orchestrated by military chiefs far away from the front lines. But on December 25th 1914 the foot soldiers took matters into their own hands and shed a light on what can be so good in sport. Thinking of those historical and unprecedented football matches makes it seem even more relevant that England and Scotland should wear their poppies with pride.

FIFA have not always been consistent in their edicts on the laws of football. In March 2016 a friendly match took place between the Republic of Ireland and Switzerland, where the home team displayed an overtly obvious “political” reference to the Easter Uprising of 1916. And FIFA did allow England to wear a black armband with a poppy logo on it for a November friendly match in 2011. But the match next week is a World Cup Qualifier which puts a different slant on the situation, and I guess they are trying to ensure every team conforms in the same way! But giving out mixed messages over the years does not help FIFA’s argument. Neither does the rather pompous comment made by the FIFA general secretary Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura “they are not the only countries affected by war”. That is not what the FA or SFA are saying at all, just that they would like to show a mutual mark of respect for a shared national remembrance day. If either England or Scotland had been playing Germany, I may have at least understood FIFA’s discomfort with the situation a little more.

FIFA should lead by example before riding rough shod over member nations with their interpretation of what political, religious and commercial neutrality actually means. Let FIFA be seen to conduct itself in a transparent and neutral manner, and show it has its own house in order first. But FIFA has shown itself to be a seeker of massive commercial advantages by awarding a World Cup to Qatar, a nation awash with cash but with no real football heritage. The decision can be interpreted as being religious and politically motivated as well. The successful Russia World Cup bid isn’t much better, though the nation is not as financially viable as the Middle East option. The rumblings of an “extended World Cup” that would allow more nations to take part in a qualifying round of the tournament, smacks of fleecing the average football fan out of their hard earned cash.  To me that idea is a purely commercial initiative to fill the FIFA coffers even more than they already are. And I haven’t even touched on the corruption charges meted out to several high ranking FIFA officials.

It seems that the Football Association and Scottish Football Association are agreed that they will defy the FIFA ruling, and wear a poppy symbol for the match. In a world where political correctness has gone mad, thank goodness some common sense prevails between my two home nations.

25 Years at Keele: Then & Now

A quarter of a century is a long time in the life of a university and although much has changed at Keele, some things have remained reassuringly the same.

The basic infrastructure of the campus has been kept in place with the same ring road linking everywhere. However the entrance has been moved to nearer the brow of the hill rather than the gatehouse at Barnes. Visitors will find all the “old buildings” still on site but with the addition of newer facilities, such as a medical school, several innovation centres (for business) and a research centre located between the library and Geology. Several of the older buildings have undergone some form of interior re-design over the years, with Chemistry having gained new laboratory suites for example, and the Home Farm complex is now a Sustainability Hub, whatever that is! The Union downstairs area is almost unrecognisable from when I first saw it 25 years ago. Of course this “renewal process” has meant that at various times, in multiple locations, the campus has been a building site. At present the Life Sciences building is being extended and new accommodation is being added to the Barnes site. Once the new student residences are available at Barnes, I’m sorry to say that the Hawthorns site will be demolished. After years of protracted arguments the “death knell” was given for Hawthorns to be transformed into a huge housing complex. The golf course has been allowed to go to seed as well, and after messy negotiations falling through between potential buyers and the council , it looks like that area could well be turned into housing too!!! So the campus may find itself in the middle of a “house building” sandwich in the very near future (finances permitting), with none of the surrounding roads having been remotely improved to deal with the extra pressure from building, or the addition of new people to the area. To add insult to injury, many of the proposed house designs are NOT going to be in the price bracket of your average lowly paid local Staffordshire resident.

Keele still remains largely a dual honours university, although more courses are available as single honours from the beginning of a student degree. So in addition to the Biomedical Sciences course of yesteryear, there are now courses in Midwifery, Nursing, Pharmacy and Physiotherapy. Subjects like Chemistry in an attempt to survive developed an additional Forensics course, whilst a few staff members formed the core of an independent Pharmacy department. Other courses have disappeared altogether such a Principal Languages, Electronics and my beloved Classical Studies.

The student population has definitely doubled and quite possibly trebled since my arrival in 1991. With more students to deal with, the university has begun attempts to simplify the timetable by making less option combinations available. So very soon it will only be possible to study Chemistry in combination with another science for example. Both Rob and I can see the beginning of the end of dual honours in this decision making, which is a great shame because that is what has made Keele so distinctive over the years. It certainly means that I may well be the ONLY person to ever graduate from Keele University in Chemistry & Classical Studies. A friend in the Alumni office dug around the records a few years ago and couldn’t find anyone else with that combination degree. Knowing the pressures this almost split-personality degree type puts you under, I’m not surprised. But I’ve always had the mantra “why be a sheep if you can be a shepherd”, and my degree fits this perfectly.

Far more students these days travel into the university on a daily basis than when I was an undergraduate. So the campus can look like an oversized out of town shopping car park, whilst the buses feel more akin to the London Tube during peak time travel. And the Chancellors Building is a bit like Piccadilly Circus with the throng of people leaving/arriving for lectures. Particularly noticeable to me is the obvious recruitment drive that Keele has had in the Far East. From what I hear this has made a rod for the university’s back with the difference in cultures and their interpretation of learning causing problems.

The library is now open 24/7 for students during the semester as well as exam time, when I’m told there is provision of fruit and bottled water at regular points to aid study. In an attempt to alleviate exam stress, I believe this year puppy therapy was offered in the Union as well as free relaxation exercise classes in the Sports Centre. Rather a big difference to my time as a student.

Neil Baldwin (the first person I met at Keele) can still be found loitering in the Students’ Union or the Sports Centre. His extraordinary life story was immortalised in the BBC docu-drama “Marvellous” aired in 2014. As a consequence Neil is in demand for personal appearances elsewhere, but I’m sure he still attends Chapel whenever possible. I was very sorry to recently hear of the demise of the Student Led Services, the first of which was held on February 9th 1992. I was at the forefront of this initiative being the Free Church leader that day alongside my friend Angela Oakey-Jones (now a real life Church of England Reverend).

As for me, the shy girl who could hardly say a word in class or at work, who was literally afraid of her own shadow, is somewhat different today. Through shared experiences with fellow students, I made lifelong friends and grew in confidence as I faced, and overcame difficult situations. The young lady, who was overwhelmed by a professorial personality in her interview, can now speak with ease to anyone of any rank or status. In P1 my fear of the Cambridge/Oxford swagger of two Classics lecturers meant I could barely put a sentence together for their essays. Wise council from the Classics head Richard Wallace sorted me out so much, that in my final year, I gave a seminar with such conviction and depth of research I was told I’d managed to teach the lecturer something new. I literally found my voice at Keele through the Chapel and Classical Studies. Today that voice rings out on Hospital Radio Leighton in Crewe, where I present a music show, a patient request program and play my part in the Crewe Alex football commentary team.

In conclusion, I got the degree I so desperately craved but from a country and university I never originally considered, in subjects I never contemplated studying. And I married the kind of man I always hoped existed but never dreamt I would meet. So when all is said and done I think it’s true to say “I was born in Scotland but I was made in Keele University”.

25 Years at Keele: Decisions

When I initially applied to university in the autumn of 1990 I named only Scottish universities on my UCCA form (St Andrews, Dundee, Aberdeen, Stirling and hesitantly Strathclyde). The most natural place/subject choice for me would have been Topographic Science at Glasgow, combining my love of geography, maths and my passion for maps. But I have always railed against being “pigeon-holed” and believed it better to study a wide range of geography options first, before specialising so much. Hence why I named Strathclyde instead, although I knew I had to move away completely to have any chance of gaining a degree. I’d just about got through school with the corrosive atmosphere at home dominating my life; I couldn’t stand the thought of doing a degree from a Cleland base. So when it became clear that my four years out of school was standing against me, (a Stirling interview suggested I did more Highers at evening class to get up to speed again), I looked for foundation courses. I could see only three places that offered them; Newcastle who I could never get on the phone, Manchester who would put me straight into clearing and Keele who offered an interview.

All I had ever wanted was a degree and the graduation photo with scroll for the mantelpiece. I adored Geography principally the physical aspect of the subject, and had not missed a beat in my interview with the Geography lecturer’s questions. I loved science, but had been terrified by the aura of Prof Morgan from Chemistry and had muttered “dunno” to every question he asked, kicking myself when he confirmed the answers that had been screaming in my head all along. I thought I had blown it, but the Professor liked my “spunk”, and much later I discovered it was on his personal recommendation I had been accepted. Clearly my quip about the Scots superiority over the English education system had NOT gone down badly with the Newfoundland born professor. The Geography lecturer on the other hand loathed my attitude from that moment on, and a silent war (on his part) was declared between us. This eventually resulted in me changing to Classical Studies at the start of my first principal year.

My foundation year was brilliant, as I found myself faced with a plethora of subject matter options ranging from a few weeks to an entire academic year in length. My alarm bells clanged violently when I was timetabled for a year course in “human” Geography, something I had vehemently expressed an intense dislike for in my interview. The option I had chosen was apparently unavailable, but had I realised it was taught by my interviewer, I may have twigged to the problems ahead. Gullibly I thought the Geography department knew best and with reluctance studied the subsidiary course. It caused me nothing but grief and I fought Geography the whole year. Consequently I got to know my general tutor Dr Rob Jackson in Chemistry quite well, as he was never off the phone trying to sort things out for me. Sadly I had to face the fact Keele Geography and me were not going to be a marriage made in heaven, so I kept my love of the subject but studied something else. But that Geography ill wind blew something else in my direction as I ended up marrying Rob Jackson.

I hadn’t managed to study anything in Geology during my foundation year, mainly because of the way my timetable worked out. Therefore I had no knowledge of the department that would have been the natural alternative to Geography, particularly as many of the options sounded similar to the ones I salivated over. But I couldn’t face the possibility of another battle with a department and chose Classics instead. Having studied a term under the Classics head of department Mr Richard Wallace, whom I adored, it was an easy choice to make. I had really quite enjoyed my Chemistry course in foundation year, so kept my science going in this area.

I had no idea at the time of finalising my principal subjects that I would end up marrying a lecturer from one of them. This would later cause such tension in my Chemistry studies, the joy I had for the subject was sucked out of me. I’m afraid Chemistry was so paranoid about covering their backside ensuring it was seen I got no special treatment, that things happened which would be neither tolerated or condoned in today’s politically correct student climate. It was my Classical Studies course which kept me going in the latter part of my degree, and I proudly took my place in the department graduation class photo. I refused to be in the Chemistry photo at all.

Throughout my degree there was always a nagging issue with my health, which began going “funny” in the late summer of 1990. Investigations found nothing, so I was just left to deal with the flare ups that came out of nowhere. With hindsight I now realise that the concerns I had regarding my health, played a part in influencing my decision to study subjects NOT requiring compulsory field trips, and discarding the concurrent Education course too.

I felt great in FY, had niggles in the middle and end of my P1 year which continued to the beginning of my P2 year. It became obvious I needed to take some time off to try and deal with my health and there was the small matter of organising a wedding too. When I resumed my studies I was in a different year group and new options had become available in Classical Studies. From the few weeks in P2 I had experienced the year before, I reluctantly had to concede that keeping my Latin would be very hard, as it really was like having three principal degree subjects. It just about killed me inside giving up the Latin area of my studies, but the new options made the pain easier to bear. The wonders of Latin poetry, Greek drama, Roman & Greek art and architecture, Roman Egypt and New Testament Studies opened up instead. If I’d continued with Latin I’d have experienced only a few of these delights, as the language aspect of the course would have been 50% of my timetable. In my new P2 year I thrived in Classical Studies but began to realise that Chemistry wasn’t going to be so easy to deal with. The department attitude toward me had changed dramatically, and educationally I’d hit a brick wall in the organic area of Chemistry. With horror it dawned on me just how heavily orientated many of the options were toward this field. Although the physical, theoretical and mathematical side of Chemistry held no terror for me, I really began to struggle. Every week I had a major lab report and problem sheet to do and the effort of producing the goods wore me down. I felt I was on a conveyor belt with just no time to really think, “smell the roses” and enjoy the science. Always feeling I had to watch my back and be on guard didn’t help matters either.

In the final year my undiagnosed health issues spectacularly hit new heights, I was never out of the doctor’s surgery. Looking back, for that entire year I was probably either under a perpetual mental fog, or legally as high as a kite through multiple prescription drug use. Despite being in poor physical shape I managed to finish my studies to graduate with a 2:2 Honours in Chemistry and Classical Studies with Subsidiary Mathematics and Geography.

Six months after graduating I had lost 4.5 stones in weight, flat-lined and underwent emergency surgery for Crohn’s Disease. My surgeon said the only thing that had kept me alive was my “obvious bloody-minded pig stubborn attitude”. I agreed because that frame of mind got me my degree as well.

25 Years at Keele: University Arrival

Twenty-five years ago this week (5th October) I arrived at Keele University as a 21 year-old fresher registered for a four year foundation course. I knew nothing about my new home having never experienced an open or visits day, in fact I’d spent about an hour in the area before I arrived. As a mature student I had won my place through an interview in May of 91, which turned out well with having to work three months notice from my job in the Clydesdale Bank.

My 5ft 2 inch eight stone frame hauled a thirty inch wheeled collapsible suitcase and a twenty inch rigid case, with duvet strapped to the side, off the 85 bus from Crewe. As I staggered into the students’ union building I heard a deep monotone voice boom out “boys”, and immediately I had assistance with my bags. I had come upon a Keele institution in the form of Neil Baldwin, the first person I met on my first day. His “boys” were his football team members, who he had marshalled to help ease the arrival of new students. Neil helpfully pointed me in the direction of where I collected my keys, assured me my bags would be safe, and that he would be waiting for my return. Discovering I was to be housed in the Hawthorns residence in the village, Neil said I’d just missed the mini bus and had half an hour wait for its return. I’d noticed Neil wearing around his neck a wooden cross pendant on a leather braid. As my eyes glanced at that simple but distinct sign of faith Neil asked “so are you a Christian then?” I replied “I’d like to think so” and mentioned I hoped to join the Chapel Choir. At that Neil promptly whisked me toward the Chapel, introduced me to the chaplains, gave me a quick tour of the building and made sure I knew where and when to go for the first choir practice. This was all before the mini bus arrived and I departed for the Hawthorns to see my room!!!

After I had unpacked, I remember sitting on my bed and giving myself a good talking too. I knew I carried two massive Grand Canyon chips on my shoulders called “Mam and Dad hang-ups”. I asked myself if I was going to be the person that had left Cleland OR the person I thought I could be, given a chance. I decided on the latter choice, realising no one knew me here, it was a clean slate. So psychologically I began filling in those shoulder chips as I strode out into my new surroundings. Oddly for two days I never saw another woman, only guys wandering the beautiful vast campus area. It wasn’t until the Friday night as I left my room to attend a residence reception party; I came upon a gang of women gathering in the hallway of Hawthorns H block, with the same party in mind. It transpired that in the all female blocks everyone congregated in the kitchen to get to know each other, whilst the all male blocks did not have such a ritual, hence why they tramped around campus instead like me. My wanderings did give me a head start when it came to registration and finding buildings when term officially began, but I also heard the odd misguided mutter about “starting early with the fellas” as I waved/said hello to various chaps heading to class.

My lifetime ambition was to attend university, but I had no chance of applying directly from school with the spectre of “parental contributions” being a factor in the financial process. So I discovered if I could prove my independence from my parents for a minimum of four years, then I could apply without fear of them being a consideration. My Dad had never let my Mum know how much he earned, so there wasn’t the remotest chance he would tell me anything. Both parents were dead set against me leaving a pensionable job on a “bloody whim”, and the fact that over 800 people were made redundant from the bank within a month of my departure, made little difference to their disdain. Without a doubt I would have been one of the redundant, but my defence for my actions fell on deaf ears and my Mammy barely spoke a word to me for a whole year, she just cut me dead most of the time when I attempted a conversation. Later “small talk” was restored, but anything to do with Keele was NEVER mentioned by her at all.

Throughout my school years where I had shown reasonable ability, neither parent had shown much of an interest. So all the decision making on subjects, worry of making the grade, terror of exams, dealing with the onslaught of bullying, as well as the growing pains of trying to fit into a confusing world, fell onto my solitary shoulders. I had absolutely no emotional support whatsoever from “family” in school, and it was abundantly clear that this state of affairs would continue at university. My sole support team consisted of three old school teachers I had stayed in touch with, and my Cleland Baptist pastor Archie Ferguson and his wife Agnes. In fact it was Archie and Agnes who gave me the confidence to get the ball rolling, by encouraging me to fill in the UCCA form. But my relationship with the support team was from a distance, not the sort where I could “chew the fat” over numerous cups of tea and late night pizza, with a reassuring hug at the end.

Being used to dealing with most things on my own meant I was a solitary kind of person with few friends at school or work. When I left the only home I’d known in Parkside Cleland, no one considered waving me off at the local railway station. As I went by train to Glasgow and onto Crewe before catching the bus to Keele, I was literally in every sense completely alone as I made my leap of faith into tertiary education. Arriving at the university I met Neil Baldwin, who in his amiable way put a proverbial arm around me and welcomed me to my new home. His simple helpful gestures paved the way for me to start my new life in Keele, as the university student I had always wanted to be.

HOSPITAL RADIO LEIGHTON OLYMPIC SHOW BROADCAST 8TH AUGUST 2012

Four years ago I fulfilled my London 2012 Olympic volunteering duties at Old Trafford. The next day I was doing my regular shift for hospital radio, gathering requests and airing my “Angie’s Allsorts” music show. This is my very own dedicated tribute to the Olympic Games ideal, with Olympic year hits, Olympic sports trivia and musical references to every decade of the modern day games since the 1900s.

Playlist

ELBOW with FIRST STEPS (2012 BBC theme tune- 2010s)

Request (outside usual time slot): BUDDY HOLLY with IT DOESN’T MATTER ANYMORE (1950s)

ELVIS PRESLEY with IT’S NOW OR NEVER (best seller of 1960-Rome games- 1960s)

Linking Lyrics Artist of the Week: ENYA

ENYA with ANYWHERE IS (2000s)

ENYA with ON MY WAY HOME (2000s)

Rarity Record of the Week:

OLYMPIA BORONAT with LES HEUGENOT from Meerbeer (recorded 1908-London’s 1st games)

CELINE DION with MY HEART WILL GO ON (reference to 1912 and Titanic sinking-1990s)

AL JOLESON with I’M SITTING ON TOP OF THE WORLD (1920s- big star in 1910s as well)

BANGLES with ETERNAL FLAME (for the Olympic torch/flame-1980s)

GEORGE FORMBY with BICEPS, MUSCLE & BRAWN (1930s)

RONALD BINGE with ELIZABETHAN SERENADE (1950s)

MONSERRAT CABALLE/FREDDIE MERCURY with BARCELONA (city of 1992 games-1990s)

RAY EBERLE/GLENN MILLER with AT LAST (1940s)

THE NEW SEEKERS with I’D LIKE TO TEACH THE WORLD TO SING (best seller 1972-Munich)

GARY BARLOW/COMMONWEALTH SINGERS with SING (2012-London’s 3rd games)

Duration: 1 hr 18m 27s

If you would like to listen to my show you can stream it from here:

https://soundcloud.com/angies_allsorts/radio-leighton-olympics-from-2012

My Historical Euro All-Star X1

Twenty-four teams will contest the European Football Championships in France this year. Surprisingly only nine teams have won the tournament with twelve finalists in total, since the contest began in 1960.

I have come up with an all-star team selection of players spanning the lifetime of the championships. My inspiration was a select UEFA 50 list used for a competition, and members of the list had to fulfil at least two of the following criteria:

Featured in at least a semi-final

Featured in a team of the tournament (ref: ToT)

Featured as the Euro top scorer (ref: TS)

Featured in an iconic moment (ref: IM)

From 1960-1976 only four nations competed for the title of European Champions. This increased to eight from 1980-1992 and then sixteen from 1996-2012. As a result some names I expected to see as a UEFA option were not offered, for example Cruyff and Kahn.

Anyway, I’ve decided to comprise my team of players who can represent every winning country and two other finalists. My players represent every decade the tournament has been played. So here is my All-Star XI team using a 4-3-3 formation:

PETER SCHMEICHEL: Goal Keeper: 1992 winner Denmark (ToT)

I thought about having Yashin the Soviet Union keeper for 60 & 64 instead of Schmeichel but wanted the big Dane between the posts. Interestingly from the keeper options; (Buffon, Casillas, Yashin, Schmeichel and Zoff); Yashin has been the ONLY keeper EVER named European Player of the Year, which is a travesty.

GIACINTO FACCHETTI: Defender left-back: 1968 winner Italy (ToT)

FRANZ BECKENBAUER: Defender centre-back/sweeper: 1972 winner Germany (ToT). Germany has also won in 1980 & 1996.

ANTON ONDRUS: Defender centre back/sweeper: 1976 winner Czechoslovakia (ToT).  He also won the bronze medal in 1980.

SERGIO RAMOS: Defender right back: 2008 & 2012 winner Spain (2012 ToT). Spain’s previous win was in 1964.

MICHEL PLATINI: Midfielder: 1984 winner France-(ToT), player of tournament & TS (9). France won again in 2000. I had grave reservations in naming Platini due to his recent fall from grace in the game, but I wanted another player from the 80s. My more natural French choice is, and always will be, Zinedine Zidane the French captain in 2000.

THEODOROS ZAGORAKIS: Midfielder: 2004 winner Greece-(ToT), player of the tournament.

DRAGAN DZAJIC: Midfielder (left winger): 1968 finalist Yugoslavia-(ToT in 68 & 76). Yugoslavia was also a finalist in 1960.

MARCO VAN BASTEN: Striker: 1988 winner Netherlands-(ToT), best player of the tournament, TS (5), IM (volley against Soviet Union in final)

VALENTIN IVANOV: Striker: 1960 winner Soviet Union-joint TS (2). Also a finalist in 1964.

CRISTIANO RONALDO: Striker: 2004 finalist Portugal-(ToT 2004 & 2012). He has scored six goals in the Euro Championships so far.

I liked the idea of having strikers from the infancy of the European Championships through to its more mature years. Van Basten was the obvious choice to me for the “middle years” and so I avoided Denmark’s Brian Laudrup from 1992 and picked Schmeichel instead. This meant Ivanov for the Soviet Union could represent the early years in my strike force.

The only Euro finalist without a representative is Belgium from 1980 beaten 2-1 by Germany. There wasn’t any player from that country mentioned in the list of fifty.

My substitute’s bench would include at least one player to cover each position.

Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon (Italy finalist 2012, (ToT 2008 & 2012).

Midfielder: Pavel Nedved (Czech Republic finalist 1996, (ToT 2004))

Defender: Paolo Maldini (Italy finalist 2000, (ToT 1988, 1996 & 2000)

Striker: Alan Shearer (England semi-finalist 1996-(ToT, TS (5) and second most prolific scorer in the Euro championships with a total of seven goals. Only Platini has scored more goals (9) but Cristiano Ronaldo may over take both men if he has a good 2016 tournament!

Muhammad Ali a Sporting Icon of Our Time

The great boxing icon Muhammad Ali passed away on June 3rd 2016 aged 74, the news heralding worldwide tributes to his legacy. I would like to add my own thoughts on the subject, having seen and heard only a little of the “official” news tributes.

At a very young age I began taking an interest in the noble art of boxing, and Muhammad Ali was probably the first “big name” I can remember hearing about and watching. Ali graced the ring with a swagger and an elegance that belied his heavyweight fighting category. Some of his battles would enter into boxing folklore legend, “Rumble in the Jungle” (Foreman v Ali: Zaire: 30th October 1974) and “Thrilla in Manila” (Ali v Frazier: Philippines: 1st October 1975). These took place well before my sixth birthday and helped foster in me a love of boxing as a sport. To me, no one could match Muhammad Ali’s greatness in the heavyweight ring.

I have always enjoyed good interview programs and Michael Parkinson’s encounters with Ali were particularly memorable. Muhammad Ali always came across as a supremely confident man (some would say arrogant), who was like a breath of fresh air, as he spoke his mind in a most articulate and mesmerising way. On discovering Ali threw his 1960 Olympic gold medal into a river after being disrespected in his native US, I felt he was a man of principal. That same principal saw him change his “slave name” Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali on his conversion to Islam. Ali also refused to fight in the Vietnam War in the late 60s, and consequently the boxing authorities shamefully banned him from the sport for 3.5 years, and stripped away his boxing titles. All these actions highlighted Ali as a man of principal in an era when the United States of America was still in the grip of deep racial inequality. Muhammad Ali was a man of his time and of his people, who managed to transcend the shackles of his country’s treatment.

Muhammad Ali was a once in a generation athlete. Like Eric Liddell a man who didn’t sacrifice his religious principles during the 1924 Olympics. Yet Eric ran to feel God’s pleasure in a 400m gold winning effort. Like Jesse Owens who by winning four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics, singularly routed Adolf Hitler’s belief in white supremacy. Ali was a man of his people, in a similar way I guess, to Cathy Freeman representing her Aboriginal heritage in the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

Ali was a man with an incredible aura who earned hard won respect from the sporting fraternity, rather like Sir Alex Ferguson. The boxer who described himself as “The Greatest” clearly had an ego as big as “The Special One” Jose Mourinho. In these two iconic men of football we see glimpses of the qualities of greatness that made Ali unique and a worldwide sporting phenomenon.

Muhammad Ali spoke his mind and didn’t give a damn who heard, or what they thought. Today’s sport is extremely sanitised and demands a universal conformity that makes athletes appear bland to the point of insignificance. As a result we can truly say there will never be a sports person like Ali again. And the world will be a poorer place for it. RIP Muhammad Ali your legacy will live on.