Partick Thistle FC v Motherwell – Preview

by John McManus © John McManus (April 11th 2015)

A Real Scrap

Partick Thistle, need a win to go seven points in front of today’s opponents. Meanwhile, a Motherwell win would see them climb to just a point behind Thistle. That would result in a real scrap to get away from the second bottom spot and a play-off to determine their top flight status.

Never has a game for second bottom place drawn so much interest in the Scottish Premier League’s history, and especially amongst Scottish football supporters across the board. With a resurgent Motherwell team starting to claw its way out of the danger-positions, the battle is now on for Motherwell, Partick Thistle, Ross County and Kilmarnock to stay away from the dreaded second bottom spot.

The team that finishes there will face a play-off against the winner of the play-offs in the Championship. It is this possibility that has captured out attention, as  one of the teams in the Championship race is the once famous and successful Glasgow Rangers.

Football to the Rescue

CIMG8139

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (April 4th 2015)

President Turns Defeat to Victory

If you are not an African this may not interest you, but it should. Nigeria has just had its presidential elections. Nothing and no one in the African continent is immune from its import and effect. So permit this excursion into the political sphere for once.

Thanks to football Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ) performed the greatest miracle of his life last Monday night. He must have recited a prayer verse I picked up from reading Neale Donald Walsch many years ago: ‘May the moment of our greatest challenge become the moment of our greatest triumph’.

From the brink of the worst moment of his life, one simple single act catapulted GEJ, the outgoing President of Nigeria, from the first incumbent President to lose power in Nigeriaʼs history to the pinnacle of glory and greatness. His action in conceding defeat so graciously last Monday night was like pouring water upon a raging inferno.

Legacy Secured

The moment President Jonathan called up General Muhammadu Buhari, his political opponent in Nigeria’s presidential election, and congratulated him for winning it and thereby wresting power from him, the unprecedented tension that had gripped the entire continent for several months up until that moment, was completely doused. Jonathan had become a respected statesman on the international stage.

All the talk about a possible break up of the country with catastrophic effect to the continent through the massive violence expected to take place in several parts of the country no matter the outcome of the election, evaporated into thin air. The fight went out of all Nigerians.

Everyone had been apprehensive about the election and its aftermath where the only visible option was a promised fight-to-the-finish by the side that loses. So acrimonious and bitter were the campaigns that the entire country was under the siege of fear.

Footballʼs Example

In recent write ups I had been advocating that both sides drew lessons from football where life is an endless series of contests producing both a winner and a loser almost every time, and both sides accept the verdicts graciously in order for another match to be played another day. That is the definition of sportsmanship.

I had appealed to the political contestants to allow the same kind of spirit that had given football the power to produce winners and losers without recourse to violence, irrespective of the differences that may exist between them, to permeate the elections. The contestants may not have even read my articles, but looking back at what has now panned out, it is as if President Jonathan feasted on my message.

In a most shocking but pleasant development, however, even before the last votes were collated and announced, GEJ went ahead to demonstrate uncommon sportsmanship. He phoned his main challenger and congratulated him on his victory. This is new political territory in Africa. It is uncommon practice – almost heard of.

A Change had to Come

True, Nigerians were fed up with a system that had impoverished them for 16 years and were yearning for a change and a new leadership. How to achieve this change became the most intractable challenge in our political history. The apparent credibility of the election, despite the avalanche of flawed processes and malfunctioning equipment, was the major factor that helped to unlock the chains of its integrity.

The umpire of the election also displayed courage, transparency, incorrigibility and neutrality, despite his being the appointee of the president and the leading contestant. Sport won at the end of the day. The ‘handshake’ conceding defeat by the president doused all the national and international tension.

Statesmanlike Exit

With that single act President Goodluck Jonathan rewrote the closing chapter of his place in Nigeria’s political history. From the brink of going down as the worst president in the history of Nigeria, his act of Sportsmanship has raised him to the pinnacle of greatness as a true patriot and statesman.

When the subject on how to be a winner is to be taught in political classes, Jonathan’s concession phone call and speech would find adequate space for mention. Those of us in sport have always known that, ultimately, you do not have to come first to be a winner.

The founder of the Olympic movement, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, put it slightly differently in the Olympic charter at the inception of the modern Olympic Games that there is greater glory in participation than in winning. Ben Johnson as well as many other athletes in his academy of cheats can testify to that, having learned the consequences the hard way.

Meanwhile, President Goodluck Jonathan wrote a new chapter in African history – one that Laurent Gbagbo could and should have written. Gbagbo has destroyed the legacy he should have had, but Jonathan has won plaudits and cemented his own legacy. He reminded the world that in politics, as in sports, winning is not really about coming first.

Up and Up

Editorʼs Note

We have covered many sports that do not receive the recognition that they should. Among them is womenʼs handball. The speed and agility and active time in the sport compares well to other sports, notably football. The Magazine will be relaunched shortly. We will resume our coverage of a sport that tests the legacy of Londonʼs Olympic Games. For that reason we republish some of our articles on the sport.

Derek Miller

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 25th 2011)

Missed Opportunity

Lord [Sebastian] Coe boasts that he saw the Olympic football competition in 2004 in Athens. A young Lionel Messi was the star turn. Coe is responsible for ensuring that Londonʼs Olympics are not only successful, but leave a legacy.

The elite sports are of course important, but for every Usain Bolt there others who deserve accolades. Bolt, Mark Spitz, Michael Phelps, Al Oerter and Carl Lewis are just some of the great Olympians, but I remain convinced that the greatest ever is and always will be the fantastic Leonidas of Rhodes.1

Handball, especially the womenʼs game is the real test of the Olympicsʼ legacy credentials. It provides fast-moving action, tactical awareness, high scoring, defensive skill, dexterity, skill and control, passing awareness and shooting prowess. The officials are respected to the point that no campaigns are necessary. London 2012 is sadly a tragically wasted opportunity, as Britain lags way behind the rest of the world, especially Denmark.

The Quest

Three years ago I visited Denmark for the first time and was introduced to the pleasures of womenʼs handball. It soon won me over. Thereʼs no diving, waving imaginary cards, demanding that opponents are sent off or feigning injury – shirt-pulling and obstruction occurs, but you canʼt have everything.

Every second is played with intensity and sportsmanship, even though professional fouls occur. In short, itʼs everything a sport should be. Randers goal-minder Channa Masson came to Denmark to learn the game – sheʼs Brasilian. She was in the first wave of Brasilians to come to Denmark.

“Denmark has the best league in the world,” she told us exclusively, which is why she came here. Her club Randers sit proudly on top of the league, which bodes well for the play-offs.

Randers were rapidly eliminated from the Championʼs League, but look forward to the play-offs and a league title. Masson played a blinder against Odense HK tonight, providing a formidable last barrier. Randers won convincingly 37-20.

They were the better team, but Massonʼs goal-minding was as valuable as the shooting prowess of Camilla Dalby, who top-scored with seven and the penalty-taking calmness of Germanyʼs Nina Wörz, who modestly insisted that Dalby was the penalty-taker, despite a first-half hat-trick of penalties.

Advice

Masson advised British girls to come to Denmark and watch the best. It worked for her. Masson not only learned from top players; she became the best and pushes herself hard. Randers are sitting pretty at the top of the league and extended their lead at the expense of tonightʼs hosts HK Odense.

Masson remains an inspiration and not just in her country. She bemoans the lost opportunity of London 2012. It was an opportunity to develop handball in Britain and in the Olympic movement. London 2012 has missed its chance – a real pity – but 2016 offers another chance. It may be too late for her, but she is looking forward to Rioʼs Games and footballʼs World Cup too.

It may come too late for Masson to play, but it would require a brave person or a fool to bet against her beating the drum for handball in Rio de Janeiro and helping to develop handball in her country and elsewhere. Nevertheless she still hopes that Londonʼs Olympics gets the message in time.

1 For further information on the greatest ever Olympian, which we published in a previous issue of the magazine.

Randers Dominate

Editorʼs Note

We have covered many sports that do not receive the recognition that they should. Among them is womenʼs handball. The speed and agility and active time in the sport compares well to other sports, notably football. The Magazine will be relaunched shortly. We will resume our coverage of a sport that tests the legacy of Londonʼs Olympic Games. For that reason we republish some of our articles on the sport.

Derek Miller

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 25th 2011)

Ambitions

We are looking to win the league,” Randersʼ goal-keeper, Chana Masson told us. “If we stay in the top two we get two points for the play-offs.” FC Midtjylland pose the only realistic threat and it is a long shot as they need Randers to start losing – something they have shown no sign of doing. Viborg offer a more realistic target, but they will be difficult too. Midtjylland play tomorrow afternoon, knowing tat anything less than victory is not an option.

The business end of the season is tight for play-off spots. Three points separate fifth from eighth. Odenseʼs slim hopes of making the play-offs needed nothing less than a win tonight, but Randers was in no mood to roll over.

Masson believes that Denmark has the best handball league in the world. She was part of the first wave of Brasilians to come to Scandinavia to learn her trade. She stayed and earned the respect of team-mates like the German Nina Wörz.

Different Class

Randers outclassed HK Odense with a sterling display of defence and attack too, 37-17 in Odense. Masson kept the home team at bay with a string of top-notch saves. She cost them at least five goals in the first half. Meanwhile, Denmarkʼs Camilla Dalby enhanced her reputation with four first-half goals, as Randers established a commanding lead, 20-7.

They made a strong and rapid statement of intent. Wörz opened the scoring in the third minute and Mette Melgaard doubled their lead, almost immediately. Within two minutes Wörz had completed a hat-trick. Odenseʼs trainer, Jan Laugesen had seen enough and took a time-out. Odenseʼs Pernille Larsen and Susanne Madsen then earned the displeasure of referee Ole Blok, receiving yellow cards before Larsen finally beat the impressive Masson to make it 4-1.

Mie Augustesen and Melgaard extended Randersʼ lead before Wörz capitalised on penalty opportunities for fouls on Augustesen and herself. With 13 minutes gone Randers had a commanding 8-1 lead. Cecilie Pedersen beat Masson for the second time, but not before the goal-keeper had kept Odense at bay a few times. Katrine Frueland scored a brace separated by another from Augustesen. Randersʼ tenth was scored by Augustesen after slick and probing passing between Wörz, Dalby and Melgaard created the opportunity.

Madsen and the impressive Gitte Andersen exchanged goals before Spaniard Eli Pinedo opened her account for Odense after 21 minutes. Wörz replied immediately. Dalby helped herself to three more while Andersen scored two and Berit Kristensen added another. Meanwhile, Pedersen and Janni Gade conceded penalties for preventing shooting opportunities. Dalby converted the opportunities.

Randers were dominating at 18-4 before Pinedo and Pedersen clawed two back.

Andersen conceded a penalty, but Massonʼs dancing around in her area distracted Pinedo enough to cause her to strike Massonʼs right-hand post. Gitte Aaen punished the lapse by scoring Randersʼ 20th goal of the half. There was just enough time for Pinedo to make amends, but Randers had established control by then, leading by 13 goals at half time.

The False Dawn

Laugesenʼs team-talk obviously struck the right note. In the first six minutes of the second half Nikoline Nielsen scored a hat-trick, but Masson saved her penalty, although Anna Sophie Okkels and Dalby scored for Randers too. The hard work had been done by Randers in the first half, during which Masson also showed how to turn defence into attack with a long throw to Andersen who gratefully accepted the chance.

Maria Fisker seemed to have left her shooting arm behind in the first half, missing when it seemed easier to score and striking the woodwork, before Wörz spared her blushes. In the second half she found her arm, scoring a magnificent break-away goal – her teamʼs 35th. The match was all but over by then. Randers completed the win 37-17.

Dalby top-scored with seven. Eleven players netted for Randers with Wörz and Augustesen netting five apiece. Fruelund and Andersen scored four each. Nielsen and Pinedo shared the honours for Odense with four each, but the score didnʼt lie. Randers deserved their win, consolidating their position at the top of the table.

The Late Show

Editorʼs Note

We have covered many sports that do not receive the recognition that they should. Among them is womenʼs handball. The speed and agility and active time in the sport compares well to other sports, notably football. The Magazine will be relaunched shortly. WE will resume our coverage of a sport that tests the legacy of Londonʼs Olympic Games. For that reason we republish some of our articles on the sport.

Derek Miller

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (March 1st 2011)

Plan

It has made me a better player,” says Spanish left-winger Eli Pinedo. She came to Denmark to improve her game, but she is only here for one season. She returns home to be with her family later this month. Her club HC Odense was eliminated from the play-offs on Friday, barring a mathematical miracle by table-topping Randers.

Nevertheless, Odense was determined to put on a show and Pinedo in particular excelled with nine of the teamʼs twenty-one goals. Nevertheless, it was a cagey affair against Roskilde. The historic city that boasts the Viking Ship Museum and a Cathedral which is the final resting place of many of Denmarkʼs monarchs fought hard to spoil Odenseʼs party, but ultimately came up just short.

Topsy-Turvy

The left-back Pernille Larsen scored the first goal. Mette Iversen performed heroics in Odenseʼs goal and her opposite number Anne Munk was no slouch either. It looked set to be a low-scoring affair as Roskilde took seven minutes to equalise after Kathrine Heindahl was shown the yellow card for lying on the ball. Amalie Grav punished the indiscretion shortly afterwards – the first of her five first-half goals. Mia Rej bagged a brace, but Odenseʼs defence held firm.

Larsen, Heindahl and Nikolene Nielsen had a first half brace apiece, while Pinedo led the line with three, including subtle lobs over Munk and deadly accuracy from the penalty line. The woodwork was tested a few times as were the goal-minders as the lead was exchanged regularly. Roskildeʼs Emilie Frølich had to sit out the end of the first half and watch Pinedo restore the lead from the line. With seconds left of the first half Heindahl gave the hosts an 11-9 lead.

The Difference

Pinedo started the second half with a flourish, scoring a delightful goal within thirty seconds of the restart. Larsen extended the lead before Rej tried to take one for her team, but her efforts to prevent Kamilla Kristensen scoring by foul means failed. She was sent off for two minutes anyway. Odenseʼs five goal lead was soon whittled away.

Grav found Iversen in inspired form and lost her scoring touch too, but Louise Olsen came off the bench to great effect scoring five goals, all in the second half. Pinedo went one better in a dominant second half performance. Kristensen grabbed three more and Larsen one. After twenty minutes of the second half Pinedo scored her eighth goal to give Odense a four goal cushion. If Odense thought victory was in sight Roskilde had other ideas. Olsen pulled one back. Maria Hansen cut the deficit to just two. Camilla Sølling scored Roskildeʼs nineteenth with six minutes remaining. It was still anybodyʼs match, but the equaliser proved elusive until the last minute. Sølling grabbed it. With just a minute left all three results were possible.

With just twenty-five seconds left to play Pinedo scored. Roskilde threw caution to the wind seeking the equaliser, but turned the ball over and Odense held on for the win. “Iʼm very happy,” Pinedo told us, “for myself and the team.” Meanwhile her club is in a rebuilding phase. They have to look to youth as Randers and Viborg dominate. She is looking forward to the Olympics. “Itʼs very important for handball,” she says, hoping that Spain can pull a surprise, but before that there is the World Championships in Brasil and their Olympics are important too for her, Spain and her sport.

Heroes

CIMG6619

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (March 22nd 2015)

AFCON 1980 Triumph

35 years ago today, I was one of sixteen young Nigerian football players that walked onto the turf of the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos full of nerves, but exhilarated by the atmosphere and the expectations of my nation. Nigeria had never won the African Cup of Nations.

The tournament started in 1957. It was time for us to take our place at the summit of African football for the first time. A crowd of some 100,000 Nigerians packed in a 60,000 capacity stadium like sardines to witness our attempt to create history.

Making History

CIMG2487

90 minutes of football later, driven by the passion of a hundred million other Nigerians, the goal was achieved. The Green Eagles played beyond their capacities and soared high above the Desert Warriors. In doing so, we destroyed the invincibility of an Algerian team that was at its peak – an obviously more experienced and probably even better team than the Eagles.

Remember that just two years later only larceny of the most shameful kind could rob that Algerian team of World Cup glory. The eventual World Cup finalists West Germany and Austria contrived in the Disgrace of Gijón to fix a result that saw both progress to the second round at Algeriaʼs expense. It was one of the worst moments in World Cup history, but it showed how big a threat Algeria was and how good a team they really were.

On the night, Nigeria could not be stopped, having come through some really difficult early matches. We played our best match of the championship, scored the highest number of goals and won the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in our country’s history.

Duty
The President of Nigeria at the time, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, led the sea of Nigerians that physically watched the event live at the stadium. As young men, we were over the moon. We had worked very hard and prepared well under the guidance of professional sports managers and administrators. Nigeria had well-established sports institutions, a clear sports policy, a clear strategy and vision for sports development.

We saw ourselves as ambassadors and patriots serving our country willingly in answer to our nationʼs call to duty. Our victory in 1980 was the culmination of a process that started in 1976 when the national team went to Dire Dawa and against all odds returned with bronze medals for the first time in our history. That was the impetus needed to aim higher and we did. In that spirit, we went to Ghana for AFCON 1978 and reinforced our confidence.

Cometh the Hour!

CIMG8139

When 1980 came and the event was held in our country we believed we had to win and were ready. The preparations were hard but meticulous, driven by our single-mindedness to be part of history. The entire country was involved on March 22, 1980. It was a day none of us that played in that match will ever forget. We soared like eagles – super-eagles.

In the end, hard work: good luck, the people’s support, our government’s commitment, all paid off. We won. And we were deservedly rewarded well without any solicitation by us. Football in Nigeria had never been the same and would never be the same for us any more.

Celebrations
This day, 35 years after that victory, I can still play back in my mind almost every minute of the final match – the blaring trumpet of the late musician Zeal Onyia marshalling Nigerians to the great battle, the vociferous singing of 100,000 Nigerians at the stadium, and the rampaging supercharged Green Eagles with humble me scoring a brace and coming closest to winning the continent’s best player award that year.

It was a day when the elements had no choice but to side with the eagles, and to provide Nigerians with the cause to truly celebrate. 35 years after that victory, the heroes of 1980 are still remembered by most Nigerians. Six of them have passed on to the beyond – Muda Babatunde Lawal, Best Ogedegbe, Okey Isima, Alloysius Atuegbu, Martin Eyo and Tunde Bamidele.

The rest are alive and kicking, not by our strength, but by the Grace of God, grateful for the opportunity of life, and of that day, March 22, 1980 when our names were written in Gold in the archives of African football.

On behalf of all 22 of us, including Emmanuel Okala, Sylvanus Okpala, Felix Owolabi, Shefiu Mohammed, John Orlando, Frank Nwachi, Christian Chukwu, Ifeanyi Onyedika, Henry Nwosu, Moses Effiong, Charles Bassey, Godwin Odiye, David Adiele, Kadiri Ikhana, Adokie Amiesimaka and me, I use this opportunity to say thank you once again to all Africans for their support and love, which since 1980 has occasionally still been showered lavishly on us.

Segun at Wembley

Making The World Go Round

Editorʼs Note

The final of the Europa League will take place in Warsaw a couple of months from now. We covered Polandʼs bow at hosting a major football even and look forward to returning to see how football has helped to develop Polandʼs infrastructures on and off the pitch. Here we republish an article on how politics and football collided with football playing its part in fostering political change.

Derek Miller

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 4th 2012)

CIMG8215

Collision Course

A recurring theme in Euro 2012 was the desire to keep politics out of football. But why? Euro 2012 took place in two countries that know better than most that football and politics, especially liberation theory politics, most definitely do mix.

It was ironic to hear one of Poland’s greatest ever players Grzegorz Lato make that plea.

Lato knows how important the history and politics were back in his heyday as a player and also now. He remembers the 1982 World Cup in Spain well, having had a good tournament. Politics and football didn’t just mix then, they collided full on. Poland and Argentina bore testimony to that on and off the pitch.

The Mix

I don’t want to mix politics and sport”, Lato said. “I had several matches, especially in 1982 during the World Cup in Spain. We were in a group with the Russians and political aspects were very important during those times also”.

That’s not only an understatement, but somewhat economic with the truth. Those were very important times for Poland. Poles living abroad brandished their Solidarność (Solidarity) banners and placards. They filled the stadiums with their protest and defiance of the Polish junta led by General Wojciech Jaruzelski for Poland’s matches.

Damned Junta

Jaruzelski replaced Edward Gierek as Communist Party leader in December 1981 and imposed martial laws, clamping down on Solidarność, putting its leader Lech Walęsa under house arrest. The junta tried to destroy a popular movement and take advantage of football, but it had underestimated both the power of football and the desire of Polish people to be free of the shackles of an oppressive and deeply unpopular regime.

It also tried to censor the political protest made during the matches, thereby underestimating the power of football. Those demanding political change in Poland made far better use of the sport as a mechanism for political change than the then government of Poland.

Failed Junta

Ultimately the junta failed, but in 1982 a good Polish team inspired by the political events in the stands secured third place. Meanwhile, the junta reacted to the impromptu demonstrations by ensuring that Poland’s World Cup matches were broadcast with a delay that allowed it to cut out the Solidarność protests.

But it was too late. Poles already knew from the first match that politics had entered the world of football to great effect in support of political and human rights for them. Both players and Polish people could not claim to be unaware of what had happened.

The junta may have hoped to profit from the success of the team in Spain, but the Solidarność protests ensured that it could not steal the glory of a remarkable achievement by the players.

The collision had occurred and did so in a country that had only recently emerged from a debilitating dictatorship and had undergone an attempted coup just a year earlier.

In 1986 Jaruzelski was told by the then leader of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, that he would not intervene in Polish affairs, forcing the General to negotiate with Walęsa. Four years later Walęsa succeeded Jaruzelski as President of Poland.

Added Spice

CIMG1350

I don’t like politics to get into this”, Lato said as 1982 had added spice – a match against the old enemy, Russia, then part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. But would Lato or any of those complaining about politics and sport mixing object to the political protests of 1982 at the football in support of Solidarność and Walęsa?

I’m looking at the context of the history of Polish-Russian relations from another perspective. This [Euro 2012] is just a sporting competition. I have played against the Russians three times. During the Olympics we won 2-1. We lost 4-1 in Volgagrad and we had a 0-0 draw in Spain, so we are staying away from the politics. We are not interested in all those issues created by mass media. We are not interested in politics”.

A Force for Change

But why not? Politics can change the world. Football also can change the world for the better. Why shouldn’t they combine to do that, for example by opposing and even stopping wars as Didier Drogba did in la Côte d’Ivoire and Seydou Keita tearfully tried to do for his country Mali in this year’s African Cup of Nations? If football cannot and should not do that, then shame on it!

Seydou Keita

So, coming from Lato this plea to keep politics out of football is strange. ‘Communism’ in Poland collapsed just eight years after the Solidarność matches in Spain. Lato was there in that different era and knows that politics and football collided for the greater good.

In the independent Poland that followed the break-up of the Soviet Union – a process that football played a part in – Lato became a Senator and later the President of Poland’s FA, the PZPN. Both were political positions. How can he credibly say that politics and football do not and should not mix?