Category Archives: Sport

Lily Allen, the Ashes, Twitter and the big fight

agnewAmongst all the post-Ashes euphoria, it’s been easy to miss the feud that’s developed between Test Match Special commentator Jonathan Agnew and Observer sports writer Will Buckley. As it all revolves around Lily Allen it’s pretty interesting. What makes it very interesting is how important Twitter has been in fuelling it.

The spat started when Buckley wrote a comment piece about Agnew’s interview with Allen on Saturday. You can read the piece for yourself, but the long and short of it is that Buckley described Agnew’s interview technique as “firmly on the pervy side of things.”

Agnew took offence at being labelled a ‘pervert’ (though strictly speaking that’s not true), and demanded an apology from Buckley. With an apology unforthcoming, he then used Twitter to launch a viral campaign against his tormentor:

“I gave Will Buckley 24 hrs to apologise for calling me a pervert, and he has declined. If you feel moved by this….

“his boss is”

The background to the whole story is that Agnew has spent the summer delivering potted updates from the Ashes on Twitter. When Allen mentioned she was watching the cricket in one of her own Twitter posts, Agnew invited her to appear on A View from the boundary. Her upcoming appearance then became Twitter’s worst kept secret as she Tweeted about the attractiveness of Graham Onions, Stuart Broad and anyone else who owns a thigh-pad.

The interview itself featured Agnew playing up his love-struck schoolboy act and asking lots of questions that weren’t entirely about cricket. It was exactly what you’d expect of an interview between a middle-aged cricket correspondent, and a 24-year-old pop star who had only recently started watching the game.

I don’t want to get into the rights and wrongs of the interview or of Buckley’s article, but I will say that the interview was entirely harmless and that most people seemed to enjoy it. Buckley then wrote it up using language that was probably more inflammatory than was wise. However, I don’t see Buckley’s article as a personal attack – it was meant to be funny, and it only really exaggerated a persona that Agnew himself had adopted during the interview.

What has been astonishing though is the reaction of the Twitter community to Buckley’s piece. At the last count 235 people had left mostly negative comments on the Observer website, and Agnew’s Twitter feed has been inundated with messages of support.

But interestingly, the article itself isn’t the only thing Buckley has done to cause offence. The Twitter community seems to have taken umbrage with Buckley because he hadn’t bothered to find out the back-story of how Allen and Agnew had regularly sent each other Tweets before the show.

Agnew is on Twitter, and has won the hearts of the community by answering their questions and taking part. As Buckley isn’t on Twitter (as far as anyone knows), there seems to be a general feeling that he shouldn’t be attacking one of Twitter’s best beloved. Here are just a couple of posters on the first page of Buckley’s comments section:

“It’s terrible when a story like this is written when the author doesn’t know or understand the background. Everyone who regularly follows TMS and @aggerscricket would know how Aggers (and Tuffers and David Lloyd) has built up this interview for the last week.”

“As regards Buckley’s piece above, it is a nasty, jealous dig typical of journalists who are scared that Twitter and Web 2.0 will put them out of a job.”

Which just goes to show the power that Twitter has at the moment. If such a groundswell of opinion can be generated by some fairly harmless remarks, imagine what could happen if something serious was to occur. Not being on Twitter to take part in the conversation seems – in some Twitter users’ eyes – to be a serious offence, and one that renders non-participants unworthy of even expressing an opinion.

This is probably because everyone likes to feel part of something, and once they do they’ll angrily pounce on anyone who attacks one of their crew. This is clearly a massive over-reaction from the Twitterati, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

So watch out – Twitter is powerful, and it’s very easily offended.


My three greatest sporting moments

These are the three greatest sporting moments I’ve seen in the flesh. They happened in three different sports, and they are each great for different reasons. But they were the kind of perfect moments where you feel privileged to be there – moments that make all the dross you’ve sat through the rest of the time seem completely worthwhile.

Andrew Flintoff bowls Jacques Kallis

England vs. South Africa at Edgbaston, 31 July 2008

kallisWatch the video

The highest quality sporting contest I’ve seen between the best two all-rounders of their generation. Kallis had looked different class from any other batsmen on show, Pietersen included*, and played the England attack as though he had all the time in the world. When Flintoff came on he’d already made a serene 50-odd.

But Fred bowled like a lunatic. He was lightning quick, nasty and skilful, and Kallis had to work to his utmost just to get near it. After a succession of play and misses and last-second jabs, Kallis was struck on the toe and England celebrated the LBW. But it wasn’t given and Flintoff was fuming.

Undeterred, he stalked back to his mark and unleashed a succession of fearsome deliveries that Kallis hardly saw. Eventually the South African was bowled by an unstoppable yorker that was through him before he could even twitch. Proper test cricket.

*Saying that, Pietersen did get 94 the next day, despite employing the left-handed sweep almost every other ball.

David Friio scores against QPR

Plymouth Argyle 2, QPR 0, Home Park, 24 April 2004

friioWatch the video

This was the kind of game you dream about. We were top, they were second. If we won we went up, almost certainly as champions. If we lost, there was a genuine chance Bristol City could catch us and condemn us to the play offs. What’s more, we’d lost our last two games, and seen our God-like manager Paul Sturrock depart to Southampton.

The game itself was unbearable – the tensest, most nervous, and, thanks to the BNP element of Argyle’s casual support, most vicious atmosphere of any game I’ve been to. Danny Dyer would have loved it.

For 80 minutes the two teams slugged it out until Mickey Evans rose from nowhere to head home a David Norris cross. The crowd went wild for a minute, and then settled back down for more anxious sentry duty. Only the odd terrified shout punctured the silence.

There then followed an absolutely horrific goalmouth scramble which went on for thirty seconds or more, the ball bouncing uncontrollably around our penalty area with at least four QPR players seeming to miss open goals. Eventually, Argyle centre half Graham Coughlan stretched out from the prone position to side-foot the ball into touch from inside his own six yard box. The roar that followed this fluffed clearance was greater than that which greeted Evans’ goal. It was that kind of game.

And then suddenly David Friio was one-on-one with the QPR keeper and he scored and he ran into the Devonport End and we were up. Relief. Elation. The perfect end to an appalling afternoon.

Fred Lewis homers off Scott Feldman

Texas Rangers 4, San Francisco Giants 6, AT&T Park, 19 June 2009

lewisWatch the video

When we went to see the Giants last month, I insisted we get tickets in the bleachers on the off chance we’d see a home run hit into McCovey Cove. I didn’t know much about baseball in San Francisco, but I had seen endless footage of Barry Bonds blasting the ball over the right-field wall and into the Pacific Ocean.

Initially, things went badly. We could only get tickets in left-field, not right-field, and the San Francisco summer was living up to Mark Twain’s scathing review. The situation worsened further when Will, who was accompanying me, looked at the board on the right-field wall and saw 48 balls had already been hit into McCovey Cove that season. The chances of it happening again must be fairly be good, he reasoned. He was less-impressed when I told him that 48 was actually the all-time figure.

Frozen by an icy ocean wind, we headed for more sheltered accommodation and were delighted to find we could stand in the relative warmth of the right-field bleachers. The San Francisco crowd were buoyant, 300 game winner Randy Johnson was pitching solidly, and the Giants were well in the game.

And then Fred Lewis drilled one onto the right field wall, about 15-yards from where we were standing (on the video I’m wearing a grey jumper, at the very bottom of the screen).

Admittedly the ball bounced first, so it doesn’t count in the records as a McCovey Cove home run. But it still went in the ocean, and I still got to see the man in the canoe paddle over to collect the ball, just as I’d planned. And when you’re watching live sport, it’s very rare that a moment comes together as perfectly as you’d hoped it would.

School football rules


There has been a lot of nonsense written about Manchester United coming to the end of a ‘long, hard season’ recently. Frankly, 66 games is not a long season.

At school, matches began before school started at 9 o’clock. They continued through morning break, entered their Battle of El Alamein stage during the lunch hour, and then meandered on indefinitely after school. This happened five days a week, with two 11-a-side matches at the weekends. There were no subs, no squad rotation, no injuries and no summer break. That’s a proper season.

Of course playground rules are slightly different to those used in the Premiership, and playground football is all the better for it. In case it’s been a while since you hung up your blazer, here’s a quick guide to the most important regulations.

Picking teams

As everyone knows, teams are picked by the two captains – the owner of the match ball and his best mate. All the other combatants line up against a wall and are selected in descending order of perceived footballing skill and social popularity.


Managers in the school games traditionally employ the 1-25 formation. The 1 being the hapless goalkeeper and the 25 being everyone else in the year scrapping in a 10-yard radius around the ball.

Rush goalkeepers

A novel way of appeasing the boy press-ganged into going in goal. Once appointed rush goalie, the boy is also allowed to take part in the outfield action when his other duties allow. Generally found leading the attack within 10 minutes of kick-off.

Monkey rush

A variation on rush goalie, monkey rush allows the post of goalkeeper to be filled by whoever is standing closest to the goal. Invariably leads to confusion and violence.

The goals

Goals are generally marked by any two landmarks a suitable width apart – fence posts, dustbins, soon-to-be-destroyed-saplings etc. In emergencies they can, of course, also be marked by the placing of two jumpers. The distance between said jumpers should always be sombrely paced-out by taking an arbitrary and entirely random number of steps.

The height of goals varies, depending on a complex equation involving the height of the goalkeeper and whether he chooses to jump or not as the shot flashes past him. In an interesting twist, the relative size of the young thug who took the shot can also have an important bearing.

Post and in

Another complicated ruling made necessary by the often bulky nature of the posts. A shot that passes goal-side of the post is generally determined to have gone ‘post and in.’ Shots passing over the outer side of the post are ruled ‘post and wide.’ Again, disputes and violence will follow.

The match ball

At middle school the ball of choice was a size-two World Cup ‘94 replica that McDonald’s gave away with Happy Meals. Small, and with the firmness of a composite hockey ball, they suited skilful dribblers and hopeless toe punters alike.

Other suitable balls include: floaty ‘Match’ ball from newsagents, tennis ball, Nike Air Jordan basketball, size three Puma King (£14.99 from Argos), year four boy’s graphic calculator.


Playground football doesn’t feel the need to criminalise players who lurk offside. Instead it relies on social ostracism to self-police the problem. Anyone found standing next to the goalkeeper for more than 20 seconds is instantly dubbed a goal-hanger and doomed to the status of pariah for ever more.


Another form of self-policing. Beats can be dished out for offences as varied as kicking the ball over a fence, failure to successfully complete the Baggio Seven or the late onset of puberty.

The seriousness of the beats reflect the offence. A minor transgression warrants a stiff jab to the BCG, while more serious crimes necessitate a brutal kicking against a chain link fence.


Are you joking? Don’t be such a girl.

Charlie George – proof that size doesn’t matter


We’re constantly told that short sentences are better. Fit one idea in a sentence, stop before you get to 25 words and you won’t go far wrong. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for the odd six line monster.

One of my favourite ever sentences (copywriter – guilty) is from Nick Hornby’s autobiography Fever Pitch. In it, a 15-year-old Hornby goes to Derby to watch Arsenal in the FA Cup. Mindful of terrace hooligans, Hornby is keen to see Arsenal win, but also aware that a drab draw would increase his chances of getting back to London in one piece.

Enter Charlie George, the iconic Arsenal striker who suddenly has a great chance to score. Hornby grudgingly accepts that the safety of the Arsenal fans should not have been a consideration as George duly tucked away the opportunity.

“But whether it was absolutely essential to celebrate by running over to the Derby fans – in whose snarling, southern poof-hating, Cockney baiting, skinheaded, steel-toecapped company we were obliged to spend the rest of the afternoon, and through whose hostile, alleywayed territory we were obliged to scuttle after the final whistle – and making an unambiguous take-that-you-provincial-fuckers V-sign … this was much more opaque.”

I love that sentence.  Over the course of 68 words Hornby manages to not only explain the background of the situation but also capture the hatred and antagonism of the crowd. ‘Take-that-you provincial-fuckers,’ signals the bursting point of a furnace that’s been brewing for the last few lines. The violence that follows seems natural and inevitable.

“He got booed off the pitch and fined by the FA; we got chased all the way to our train, bottles and cans cascading around our ears. Cheers, Charlie.”

So, thought of the day? If you want to build tension, use a long and rambling list that constantly points the way to the upcoming excitement. Otherwise, stick to your nice, short sentences and everyone will understand what’s going on.